Maturation and experience in preterm speech perception

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Brenna, Henrikson
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The present study examined the relative impact of maturation and experience on preterm and full term infant speech perception when learning about sounds that are unable to be heard in utero (i.e., fricative sounds). Our sample consisted of 7 (N = 49 full term, 9 preterm) 9 (N = 57 full term, 27 preterm), and 11-month (N = 68 full term, 25 preterm) gestationally corrected full term and preterm infants, with a follow-up at 18-months (N = 43 full term, 13 preterm). The headturn preference procedure was utilized to measure infants’ perception of fricative sound pairs and vowel sounds at different ages by presenting infants with common versus uncommon sound pairings and measuring looking times for these sounds. I did not find evidence for preterm infants outperforming full term infants on the common versus uncommon sound discrimination task. This could be partially due to maturation playing more of a role than experience when infants are developing an understanding of the phonetic constraints surrounding fricatives in the English language. Specifically, preterm infants were not able to utilize the extra experience gained out of the womb with sound pairings involving fricatives, possibly due to a maturational restriction. Further, no relationship was found between MCDI scores and discrimination of common from uncommon fricative sound pairs, suggesting that when infants begin to gain an understanding of phonotactic properties in their language is not always indicative of their later language development.
Preterm infant, Speech perception, Language development, Phonotactics