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Open Access Publications from the University of California

Do you speak 'kid'? The role of experience in comprehending child speech


Child speech deviates from adult speech in predictable ways. Are listeners who routinely interact with children implicitly aware of these systematic deviations, and thereby better at comprehending children? In Experiment 1, we explore this possibility by testing three types of participants with variable experience interacting with children: undergraduates with minimal experience with children (N=48), mothers of young children (N=48), and early childcare educators (N=36). Participants transcribed single-word utterances produced by the same set of children at 2.5-, 4-, and 5.5-years-old. In Experiment 2, mothers (N=50) completed a similar transcription task that featured speech by their own, and another, 2.5-year-old child. Participants performed similarly regardless of their experience with children, while mothers demonstrated a Familiar Talker Advantage with their own child’s speech. Our findings suggest that while experience with children may not facilitate improved comprehension of child speech in general, it may lead to enhanced comprehension of those children in particular.

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