LINGUIST List 11.1987

Wed Sep 20 2000

Qs: Categorical Sound Discrimination, "End-focus"

Editor for this issue: Karen Milligan <>

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  1. Sean P McGrew, infant categorical sound discrimination
  2. Denis Jamet, end-focus

Message 1: infant categorical sound discrimination

Date: Tue, 19 Sep 2000 21:03:28 -0400
From: Sean P McGrew <>
Subject: infant categorical sound discrimination

Our undergraduate language acquisition class 
is looking for a solution to a seeming contradiction, 
and our prof siezed the opportunity to introduce us 
to the question-answering power of this 
huge community of linguists, assigning me the job 
of posting the question. 

Our textbook is the fourth edition (1997) of Jean Berko 
Gleason. In pages 82-83, citing a 1971 study 
by Eimas et al., Gleason says that one-month old infants 
show a categorical discrimination between /b/ and /p/,
 i.e. they distinguish the sounds based on different 
voice onset time, but they "ignored similar-sized timing 
differences involving different tokens within 
the categories of /b/ or /p/." 

He goes on to say that
infants less than three months old are able to discriminate 
between similar-sounding segments from any language, 
giving as examples studies by Trehub (1976) and 
Werker and Tees (1984). 

Here's our problem: given that languages vary 
considerably in voicing onset, it seems that if 
one-month old infants are already classing sounds 
into mother-tongue phonemes, they shouldn't 
exhibit the ability to discriminate differences 
that are non-meaningful in their mother tongue. 
For example, wouldn't an English-hearing infant 
which correctly grouped all english /b/ and /p/ 
necessarily mis-class some French or Spanish 
or Korean /p/ sounds? 

Or is there some categorization that is really

Thanks for any insight or help.

Sean McGrew
University of NC, Chapel Hill
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Message 2: end-focus

Date: Wed, 20 Sep 2000 10:28:30 +0200
From: Denis Jamet <>
Subject: end-focus

Dear linguists,

A colleague of mine is wondering about the origin of the term
"end-focus"; who coined it for the first time (Halliday???), where?
Any suggestion will be greatly appreaciated.

Denis Jamet
Universit´┐Ż Jean Moulin - Lyon 3
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