Can infants learn a specific sound change? Are they biased towards one type of change over another?

Previous research has shown that infants are sensitive to phonetic similarity when learning phonological patterns (Steriade, 2001/2008; White, 2014). Our goal for this study was to see if infants’ willingness to generalize newly learned phonological alternations depend on the phonetic similiarity of the sounds involved. We exposed 12-13-month-olds to words from an artificial language whose distributions provided evidence for a phonological alternation between two relatively dissimilar sounds ([p ~ v] or [t ~ z]) and two relatively similar sounds ([b ~ v] or [d ~ z]). The infants favored and generalized to the pair of sounds that were more similar. The results indicate a learning bias favoring alternations between similar sounds.