Modified spectral tilt affects older, but not younger, infants' native-language fricative discrimination

Elizabeth Francis Beach, Christine Kitamura

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

4 Citations (Scopus)


Purpose: It is important to ensure that hearing aid fitting strategies for infants take into account the infant's developing speech perception system. As a way of exploring this issue, this study examined how 6- and 9-month-olds with normal hearing perceive native-language speech in which the natural spectral shape was altered to emphasize either high-frequency (positive spectral tilt) or low-frequency (negative spectral tilt) information. Method: Discrimination was tested using a visual habituation procedure. Forty-eight 6-month-olds and forty-eight 9-month-olds were presented with a fricative contrast, /f/-/s/, in 1 of 3 conditions: (a) as unmodified speech; (b) with a -6 dB/octave tilt; or (c) with a +6 dB/octave tilt. Results: Six-month-oldsshowedevidenceofdiscriminating /f/-/s/ in all 3 conditions, but 9-month-olds showed such evidence only in the unmodified condition. Conclusions: The findings suggest that the perceptual reorganization that emerges for consonants at the end of the first year affects 9-month-olds' discrimination of native speech sounds. Perceptual reorganization is usually indexed by a decline in the ability to discriminate nonnative speech sounds. In this study, 6-month-olds demonstrated an acoustic- based sensitivity to both modified and unmodified native speech sounds, but 9-month-olds were most sensitive to the unmodified speech sounds that adhered to the native spectral profile.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)658-667
Number of pages10
JournalJournal of Speech, Language, and Hearing Research
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - 1 Apr 2011
Externally publishedYes


  • Fricative discrimination
  • Infant development
  • Spectral tilt
  • Speech perception


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