Storkel, H.L. & Hoover, J.R. (2006). Whole-word versus part-word phonotactic probability/neighborhood density in word learning by children. In D. Bamman, T. Magnitskaia, & C. Zaller (eds). Proceedings of the 30th Annual Boston University Conference on Language Development, Volume 2 (pp. 584-594). Somerville, MA: Cascadilla Press.


Past studies demonstrate that word learning is influenced by the overall phonotactic probability (i.e., the likelihood of occurrence of a sound sequence) and neighborhood density (i.e., the number of phonologically similar words) of the word to be learned. The purpose of the current study was to pit the phonotactic probability/neighborhood density of the whole-word versus the phonotactic probability/neighborhood density of the parts of the word, namely the initial consonant and vowel (CV) and the vowel and final consonant (VC) in consonant-vowel-consonant (CVC) nonwords. Data were collected from 20 3-year-old and 23 4- and 5-year-old children in a word learning task. Results indicated a significant interaction between CV phonotactic probability/neighborhood density, VC phonotactic probability/neighborhood density, and age. Analysis of each age showed that 3-year-olds were more affected by whole-word phonotactic probability/neighborhood density, demonstrating a U-shaped pattern of performance. Specifically, highest accuracy was observed for nonwords with high or low whole-word phonotactic probability/neighborhood density, whereas lowest accuracy was observed for nonwords with mid whole-word phonotactic probability/neighborhood density. In contrast, 4- and 5-year-olds were influenced more by VC phonotactic probability/neighborhood density, learning more nonwords with low, rather than high, VC phonotactic probability/neighborhood density. This finding supports the hypothesis that processing changes from holistic to fine-grained in development and further highlights the importance of the rhyme for English speakers.

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