Classification of bimodal English and Spanish language passages by infants

Lorraine E. Bahrick, Florida International University
Jeffrey N. Pickens, Florida International University


This research was undertaken to assess whether 5-month-old infants could discriminate and classify audible and visible, English and Spanish speech passages on the basis of language membership. Forty-eight infants were tested in an infant-control visual habituation procedure. They were habituated to a video display of a woman reciting one of two passages in either English or Spanish. Variables such as speaker identity, meter, number of syllables, affect, facial motion, and speed and intensity of speech were controlled across the English and Spanish versions of each passage. Subjects were randomly assigned to one of three discrimination test conditions: (a) a no-change control, (b) a new passage presented in the old language, or (c) a new passage presented in the new language. It was expected that if infants were capable of classifying passages on the basis of language membership, they would show significant recovery to the new passage when it was presented in the new language, relative to the performance of control subjects, but would generalize habituation across passages of the old language. Results confirmed these expectations. A second experiment identical to the first except for the presentation of silent visual displays demonstrated that classification of languages was not based on visual information for speech. Rather, the auditory information was necessary for classification. These findings are discussed in the context of an invariant-detection view of perceptual development. © 1988.