In spontaneous conversations, words are often pronounced with fewer segments or syllables than in their citation forms. For example, the English word police can be pronounced as p’lice. Previous research has argued that adult speakers and listeners have stored lexical representations for at least some of these pronunciation variants in their mental lexicons (see Ernestus, in press), but it is still unknown how and when these representations are acquired.
Previous studies have indicated that infants are frequently confronted with variability in speech caused by reduction processes (e.g. Bortfeld & Morgan, 2010; Shockey & Bond, 1980). In the present study, we investigated the perception of reduced pronunciation variants by 20- to 28-month-olds acquiring Canadian English. We focused on a common reduction process in English: schwa deletion in unstressed syllables. Children were taught to associate bisyllabic nonsense words containing a schwa in the initial syllable (e.g. satoom) with new objects. They were then tested in a preferential looking procedure on tokens of these words with schwa present, with deleted schwa and with a mispronunciation of the first consonant of the second syllable.
Results will be discussed with regards to the formation of representations for reduced speech by young language learners