Six-month-old infants recognize phrases in song and speech

Laura E. Hahn*, Titia Benders, Tineke M. Snijders, Paula Fikkert

*Corresponding author for this work

    Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

    3 Citations (Scopus)
    12 Downloads (Pure)


    Infants exploit acoustic boundaries to perceptually organize phrases in speech. This prosodic parsing ability is well-attested and is a cornerstone to the development of speech perception and grammar. However, infants also receive linguistic input in child songs. This study provides evidence that infants parse songs into meaningful phrasal units and replicates previous research for speech. Six-month-old Dutch infants (n = 80) were tested in the song or speech modality in the head-turn preference procedure. First, infants were familiarized to two versions of the same word sequence: One version represented a well-formed unit, and the other contained a phrase boundary halfway through. At test, infants were presented two passages, each containing one version of the familiarized sequence. The results for speech replicated the previously observed preference for the passage containing the well-formed sequence, but only in a more fine-grained analysis. The preference for well-formed phrases was also observed in the song modality, indicating that infants recognize phrase structure in song. There were acoustic differences between stimuli of the current and previous studies, suggesting that infants are flexible in their processing of boundary cues while also providing a possible explanation for differences in effect sizes.

    Original languageEnglish
    Pages (from-to)699-718
    Number of pages20
    Issue number5
    Early online date13 Aug 2020
    Publication statusPublished - Sept 2020

    Bibliographical note

    Copyright the Author(s) 2020. Version archived for private and non-commercial use with the permission of the author/s and according to publisher conditions. For further rights please contact the publisher.


    • prosody
    • song
    • phrase
    • head-turn preference paradigm


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