Relationships Between Vocabulary Size and Spoken Word Recognition in Children Aged 3 to 70

  • Munson B
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Spoken word recognition was investigated in a group of children aged 3:0 to 7:11 (years:months) to assess the relationship between five measures of language development and spoken word recognition accuracy. Two spoken word recognition tasks, gated words and noise-center words, were used. In the gating task, participants were asked to identify words whose final consonants had been removed. In the noise-center task, participants were asked to identify words whose medial vowel had been replaced by broadband noise. In both tasks, participants provided a nonverbal picture-pointing response. Five measures of language development were examined as possible predictors of spoken word recognition accuracy: expressive vocabulary, receptive vocabulary, pre-literacy skills, phonological awareness, and articulation accuracy, each of which was measured using a standardized, norm-referenced test. In the gating task, children required acoustic evidence of the final stop burst in consonant vowel consonant (CVC) words for accurate recognition. In the noise-center task, children required at least 40% of the vowel to be present in CVC words for accurate recognition. Of the five language measures, expressive vocabulary and receptive vocabulary were found to predict a significant proportion of variance in spoken word recognition scores. Results are discussed in terms of factors that influence spoken word recognition accuracy and the relationship between vocabulary size and linguistic development. 1 poken word recognition is a multifaceted process whereby a listener associates an acoustic speech signal with a mental representation of a lexical item stored in long-term memory (Lively, Pisoni, & Goldinger, 1994). Some mechanisms involved in identifying a word include peripheral sensory mechanisms, which are used to build the immediate transient sensory representations of spectral and other acoustic information in the speech signal; working memory, which is used to hold information while the association is being made to the evoked representation of the lexical item in long-term memory; long-term phonological representations, against which immediate sensory representations are compared; and motor skills, which are used to establish aspects of the longer term representation relevant for reproducing the word as a response. The development of spoken word recognition underlies the development of spoken language. Before acquiring a complex grammatical system, children must accurately perceive lexical items in the ambient language. Adult-like spoken word recognition emerges gradually in development, beginning in the pre-linguistic stage and continuing through adolescence. A large body of research suggests that infants and young children are able to perceive words and other linguistic structures well in advance of being able to produce them. Studies have shown that infants begin life with prodigious speech perception skills and are able to perceive many phonetic contrasts that do not appear in the ambient language (see Jusczyk, 1992 for a review). The attenuation of this ability appears to coincide with the onset of receptive vocabulary development and the beginning of variegated babbling at the end of the first year of life (Werker & Stager, 2000). Later refinement of spoken word recognition involves the improvement of accuracy 1 Currently affiliated with the University of Minnesota, MN.




Munson, B. (2001). Relationships Between Vocabulary Size and Spoken Word Recognition in Children Aged 3 to 70. Contemporary Issues in Communication Science and Disorders, 28(Spring), 20–29.

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