CURRENT INTERESTS

Longitudinal study

How do early acquired cognitive skills relate to individual differences in language development?

The purpose of this project is to learn how skills for language and thinking that babies acquire very early in life are related to individual differences in language development through the preschool years ( from 3 to 60 months). We will be following one group of full-term babies and another group of preterm babies. We’ll collect several types of observations. These include: annual surveys of information about your household, periodic recordings of speech that your baby hears, tests of language and thinking, assessments of your child’s hearing, parental reports on your child’s language development, and standardized tests of your child’s language development. Although there is no actual individual assessment of the children going through the study, a better understanding of full-term and preterm development may help others identify and treat babies who are not developing as expected.


Does speaker accuracy make a difference to babies?

Do toddlers select who they learn from?

To start using language to communicate, children need to learn correct word meanings. However, not all people around them are equally knowledgeable or sincere (for example, siblings during play might purposefully use wrong words). How do young toddlers decide who to learn from? We studied 18-month-old toddlers' looking behavior, to investigate how they learn words from accurate and inaccurate speakers. Speakers demonstrated their knowledge showing familiar toys to the toddlers and naming them either correctly or incorrectly. We found that toddlers learned new words from the accurate speaker significantly better than from the inaccurate speaker. Our findings suggest that even very young children already have the capacity to keep track of speakers’ accuracy and to selectively pay more attention to those who are reliable.

In furthering our investigation into the question of who young toddlers learn may learn from, we're presenting the same familiar objects to the toddlers, but naming them correctly or incorrectly in the form of a question. We're wondering if the 18-month-olds will tend to learn more from the incorrect speaker if they sense they weren't intentionally giving unreliable information.


How do babies recognize words in fluent speech?

Mispronunciation

Sometimes when babies begin to talk, they don’t pronounce all the sounds in a word correctly (for

example, saying “fish” like “fiss”). Does this mean that they don’t know how words are supposed to sound? In our studies we test whether babies can tell if you mispronounce the name of an object that they know. We showed 18-20 month olds pairs of objects, some of which are familiar objects (like a bird) and some of which are unfamiliar (like an hourglass). Then we asked them to look at one (“Find the bird!”), but sometimes we mispronounced the word (“Find the birf!”). We have found that 18 – 20 month old babies can tell when you mispronounce something and the beginning of the word is different. They are also able tell when the ending sound of the word is different. So even if babies say words incorrectly themselves sometimes, they know what the words are supposed to sound like. We’re now trying this with 14 – 15 month olds.