SciCombinator

Discover the most talked about and latest scientific content & concepts.

Journal: Journal of child language

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Children’s ability to refer is underpinned by their developing cognitive skills. Using a production task (n = 57), we examined pre-articulatory visual fixations to contrast objects (e.g., to a large apple when the target was a small one) to investigate how visual scanning drives informativeness across development. Eye-movements reveal that although four-year-olds fixate contrast objects to a similar extent as seven-year-olds and adults, this does not result in explicit referential informativeness. Instead, four-year-olds frequently omit distinguishing information from their referring expressions regardless of the comprehensiveness of their visual scan. In contrast, older children make greater use of information gleaned from their visual inspections, like adults. Thus, we find a barrier not to the incidence of contrast fixations by younger children, but to their use of them in referential informativeness. We recommend that follow-up work investigates whether younger children’s immature executive skills prevent them from describing referents in relation to contrast objects.

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ABSTRACT This review article presents evidence for the claim that frequency effects are pervasive in children’s first language acquisition, and hence constitute a phenomenon that any successful account must explain. The article is organized around four key domains of research: children’s acquisition of single words, inflectional morphology, simple syntactic constructions, and more advanced constructions. In presenting this evidence, we develop five theses. (i) There exist different types of frequency effect, from effects at the level of concrete lexical strings to effects at the level of abstract cues to thematic-role assignment, as well as effects of both token and type, and absolute and relative, frequency. High-frequency forms are (ii) early acquired and (iii) prevent errors in contexts where they are the target, but also (iv) cause errors in contexts in which a competing lower-frequency form is the target. (v) Frequency effects interact with other factors (e.g. serial position, utterance length), and the patterning of these interactions is generally informative with regard to the nature of the learning mechanism. We conclude by arguing that any successful account of language acquisition, from whatever theoretical standpoint, must be frequency sensitive to the extent that it can explain the effects documented in this review, and outline some types of account that do and do not meet this criterion.

Concepts: Linguistics, Lexeme, Universal grammar, Language acquisition, Noam Chomsky, Second language acquisition, Brian MacWhinney, Elizabeth Bates

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Many children learn language, in part, from the speech of non-native speakers who vary in their language proficiency. To investigate the influence of speaker proficiency on the quality of child-directed speech, 29 mothers who were native English speakers and 31 mothers who were native speakers of Spanish and who reported speaking English to their children on a regular basis were recorded interacting with their two-year-old children in English. Of the non-native speakers, 21 described their English proficiency as ‘good’, and eight described their English proficiency as ‘limited’. ANCOVAs, controlling for differences in maternal education and child language level, revealed significant effects of group on lexical and grammatical properties of child-directed speech that the literature has identified as positive predictors of child language development. These results suggest that the child-directed speech of native speakers and non-native speakers with good proficiency provide a richer database for language acquisition than the child-directed speech of speakers with limited proficiency.

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Research has shown that observing iconic gestures helps typically developing children (TD) and children with specific language impairment (SLI) learn new words. So far, studies mostly compared word learning with and without gestures. The present study investigated word learning under two gesture conditions in children with and without language impairment. Twenty children with SLI (age four), twenty age-matched TD children, and twenty language-matched TD children were taught words that were presented with either iconic or non-iconic gestures. Results showed that children of all groups benefited more successfully from observing iconic gestures for word learning. The iconic gesture advantage was similar across groups. Thus, observing iconic gestures prompts richer encoding and makes word learning more efficient in TD and language impaired children.

Concepts: Language, Word, Learning, Knowledge, Root, Sign language, Specific language impairment, Portmanteau

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Although sentence repetition is considered a reliable measure of children’s grammatical knowledge, few studies have directly compared children’s sentence repetition performance with their understanding of grammatical structures. The current study aimed to compare children’s performance on these two assessment measures, using a multiple-choice picture-matching sentence comprehension task and a sentence repetition task. Thirty-three typically developing children completed both assessments, which included relative clauses representing a range of syntactic roles. Results revealed a similar order of difficulty of constructions on both measures but little agreement between them when evaluating individual differences. Interestingly, repetition was the easier of the two measures, with children showing the ability to repeat sentences they did not understand. This discrepancy is primarily attributed to the additional processing load resulting from the design of multiple-choice comprehension tasks, and highlights the fact that these assessments are invoking skills beyond those of linguistic competence.

Concepts: Understanding, Evaluation, Assessment, Linguistics, Sentence, Grammar, Syntactic entities, Natural language

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Studies on the relationship between bookreading and language development typically lack data about which books are actually read to children. This paper reports on an Internet survey designed to address this data gap. The resulting dataset (the Infant Bookreading Database or IBDb) includes responses from 1,107 caregivers of children aged 0-36 months who answered questions about the English-language books they most commonly read to their children. The inclusion of demographic information enables analysis of subsets of data based on age, sex, or caregivers' education level. A comparison between our dataset and those used in previous analyses reveals that there is relatively little overlap between booklists gathered from proxies such as bestseller lists and the books caregivers reported reading to children in our survey. The IBDb is available for download for use by researchers at .

Concepts: Educational psychology

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Onomatopoeia are frequently identified amongst infants' earliest words (Menn & Vihman, 2011), yet few authors have considered why this might be, and even fewer have explored this phenomenon empirically. Here we analyze mothers' production of onomatopoeia in infant-directed speech (IDS) to provide an input-based perspective on these forms. Twelve mothers were recorded interacting with their 8-month-olds; onomatopoeic words (e.g. quack) were compared acoustically with their corresponding conventional words (duck). Onomatopoeia were more salient than conventional words across all features measured: mean pitch, pitch range, word duration, repetition, and pause length. Furthermore, a systematic pattern was observed in the production of onomatopoeia, suggesting a conventionalized approach to mothers' production of these words in IDS.

Concepts: Scientific method, Language, Word, Microsoft Word, Pitch, Duration, Range, Onomatopoeia

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Children are thought to learn second languages (L2s) using primarily implicit mechanisms, in contrast to adults, who primarily rely on explicit language learning. This difference is usually attributed to cognitive maturation, but adults also receive more explicit instruction than children, which may influence their learning strategies. This study crosses instruction condition with age, teaching forty children aged 5;3 to 7;11 and forty adults an artificial mini-language under implicit or explicit training conditions. Participants produced novel sentences and judged sentence grammaticality equally well in either condition, but both children and adults in the explicit training condition developed greater awareness of the mini-language’s structures - and greater awareness was associated with better performance for both age groups. Results show that explicit instruction affects children and adults in the same way, supporting the hypothesis that age differences in implicit vs. explicit L2 learning are not exclusively caused by maturation, but also influenced by instruction.

Concepts: Psychology, Cognition, Cognitive science, Linguistics, Language, Second language, Learning, Second language acquisition

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Fathers' child-directed speech across two contexts was examined. Father-child dyads from sixty-nine low-income families were videotaped interacting during book reading and toy play when children were 2;0. Fathers used more diverse vocabulary and asked more questions during book reading while their mean length of utterance was longer during toy play. Variation in these specific characteristics of fathers' speech that differed across contexts was also positively associated with child vocabulary skill measured on the MacArthur-Bates Communicative Development Inventory. Results are discussed in terms of how different contexts elicit specific qualities of child-directed speech that may promote language use and development.

Concepts: Family, Language, Question, Child, Childhood, Learning, Speech, Vocabulary

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ABSTRACT The talk children hear from their primary caregivers predicts the size of their vocabularies. But children who spend time with multiple individuals also hear talk that others direct to them, as well as talk not directed to them at all. We investigated the effect of linguistic input on vocabulary acquisition in children who routinely spent time with one vs. multiple individuals. For all children, the number of words primary caregivers directed to them at age 2 ; 6 predicted vocabulary size at age 3 ; 6. For children who spent time with multiple individuals, child-directed words from all household members also predicted later vocabulary and accounted for more variance in vocabulary than words from primary caregivers alone. Interestingly, overheard words added no predictive value to the model. These findings suggest that speech directed to children is important for early word learning, even in households where a sizable proportion of input comes from overheard speech.

Concepts: Language, Household, Speech, Lexicography, Vocabulary