Year-old babies track word patterns to support learning

December 11th, 2011 - 8:03 pm ICT by IANS  

Sydney, Dec 11 (IANS) Babies are highly attuned to communicating and motivated to interact and also make for great listeners, new research reveals

During the first year of life when babies spend so much time listening to languages they’re actually tracking word patterns that will support their process of word-learning that occurs between the ages of about 18 months and two years.

“Babies are constantly looking for language clues in context and sound,” said Jill Lany, assistant professor of psychology and director of Notre Dame’s baby lab, which conducts studies on how babies acquire language.

“My research suggests that there are some surprising clues in the sound stream that may help babies learn the meanings of words. They can distinguish different kinds of words like nouns and verbs by information in that sound stream,” she said.

Lany’s studies shows that babies as young as 12 months can identify adjacent relationships in which a phrase or sound like “it’s a” occurs immediately before an object, according to a Notre Dame statement.

“If I were to say to you, ‘Oh look, it’s a dax,’ you might not know what a ‘dax’ is but the cue ‘it’s a’ lets a baby know that what follows is an object,” Lany said.

Similarly, if a person were to say “I’m daxing it,” the same principal is at work with cues and word patterns that indicate a verb or action word.

Babies actually can use these patterns as clues to the meanings of new words they are learning.

“We often think about grammar coming after word-learning, but in fact, my research shows that all this information that babies are picking up in that first year of life about how words are occurring in their language, actually is supporting this process of word-learning prior to mastery of language,” concluded Lany.

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