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Pronunciation is an important part of speech acquisition, but little attention has been given to the mechanism or mechanisms by which it develops. Speech sound qualities, for example, have just been assumed to develop by simple imitation. In most accounts this is then assumed to be by acoustic matching, with the infant comparing his output to that of his caregiver. There are theoretical and empirical problems with both of these assumptions, and we present a computational model—Elija—that does not learn to pronounce speech sounds this way. Elija starts by exploring the sound making capabilities of his vocal apparatus. Then he uses the natural responses he gets from a caregiver to learn equivalence relations between his vocal actions and his caregiver’s speech. We show that Elija progresses from a babbling stage to learning the names of objects. This demonstrates the viability of a non-imitative mechanism in learning to pronounce.
Howard is with the Computational and Biological Learning Laboratory, Department of Engineering, University of Cambridge, Cambridge, UK. Messum is with the Centre for Human Communication, University College London, London, UK.