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Spectral information in nonspeech contexts influences children's categorization of ambiguous speech sounds.
For both adults and children, acoustic context plays an important role in speech perception. For adults, both speech and nonspeech acoustic contexts influence perception of subsequent speech items, consistent with the argument that effects of context are due to domain-general auditory processes. However, prior research examining the effects of context on children's speech perception have focused on speech contexts; nonspeech contexts have not been explored previously. To better understand the developmental progression of children's use of contexts in speech perception and the mechanisms underlying that development, we created a novel experimental paradigm testing 5-year-old children's speech perception in several acoustic contexts. The results demonstrated that nonspeech context influences children's speech perception, consistent with claims that context effects arise from general auditory system properties rather than speech-specific mechanisms. This supports theoretical accounts of language development suggesting that domain-general processes play a role across the lifespan.