Extracting Language From Sound

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Originally published in Contemporary Psychology: APA Review of Books, 1998, Vol 43(10), 683–684. Reivew of “The Discovery of Spoken Language,” by Peter W. Jusczyk (see record 1997-97485-000). The perception of speech is a unique and extraordinarily complex ability. The human ear is exposed to a continuous stream of different sounds. For the infant, it a complex task to detect the components of the signal that make up a message and to identify the discrete units of language which have to be integrated into a meaningful representation. And yet, the human speech perception capacity develops within the first two years of life. According to Kempe, Jusczyk's book does a marvelous job in getting the reader to acknowledge the complexity of the task that lies at the foundation of language development. The speed of this development is so remarkable that it has led some researchers to believe that humans must possess an innate predisposition for the perception of speech. Juszcyk, one of the leading experts in the field, tells a story about how the task can be accomplished without resorting to these strong nativist assumptions. In doing so, he provides an up-to-date summary of experimental research in infant speech perception carried out by himself and by many others within the past 25 years. (PsycINFO Database Record (c) 2006 APA, all rights reserved)

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