Dense neighborhoods and mechanisms of learning: Evidence from children with phonological delay

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Cambridge University Press
There is a noted advantage of dense neighborhoods in language acquisition, but the learning mechanism that drives the effect is not well understood. Two hypotheses–long-term auditory word priming and phonological working memory–have been advanced in the literature as viable accounts. These were evaluated in two treatment studies enrolling 12 children with phonological delay. Study 1 exposed children to dense neighbors versus nonneighbors before training sound production in evaluation of the priming hypothesis. Study 2 exposed children to the same stimuli after training sound production as a test of the phonological working memory hypothesis. Results showed that neighbors led to greater phonological generalization than nonneighbors, but only when presented prior to training production. There was little generalization and no differential effect of exposure to neighbors or nonneighbors after training production. Priming was thus supported as a possible mechanism of learning behind the dense neighborhood advantage in phonological acquisition.
phonology, child phonology, clinical phonology, phonological disorders in children, phonological treatment, Learnability Project, language acquisition
Gierut, J.A., & Morrisette, M. L. (2015). Dense neighborhoods and mechanisms of learning: Evidence from children with phonological delays. Journal of Child Language, 42, 1036-1072. PMCID: PMC4691351
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