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Open Access Publications from the University of California

Are Explicit Frequency Counters Necessary in Computational Models of Early Word Segmentation?


Frequency counters are computational mechanisms that track the frequency or probability of speech units. Such counters are idealizations which re-describe frequency effects in early word segmentation, not providing an underlying learning mechanism from which these effects arise. Previous work has shown that Implicit Chunking represents a plausible learning mechanism explaining infants’ sensitivity to statistical cues when segmenting small-scale artificial languages (French et al., 2011). However, no work has examined whether Implicit Chunking allows to segment naturalistic speech in a developmentally plausible way. Here, we show how a novel symbolic model of Implicit Chunking – CLASSIC-Utterance-Boundary - performs better or as well as previous frequency-based models (i.e., transitional probability, chunking) at predicting children’s word age of first production and a range of word-level characteristics of children’s vocabularies (word frequency, word length, neighborhood density, phonotactic probability). We suggest that explicit frequency counters are not necessary to explain infants’ speech segmentation in naturalistic settings.

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