Try This Experiment on Your Baby!
14 to 16 months
Try this simple experiment on your baby to learn about language development.
Conduct this experiment when your baby is 14 months old, and again at 16 months.
For this experiment, gather eight objects (or pictures of objects) that are unfamiliar to your baby.
You'll present these objects to your baby in pairs. During each presentation, show one of the objects to your baby and label it several times with one of the nonsense words from Column 1 below. Then show the other object and label it several times with one of the nonsense words from Column 2. For instance, you might say, "Look, a (label)! This is a (label). Do you see the (label)? See, I'm holding a (label)."
|COLUMN 1||COLUMN 2|
Once you've labeled each object individually, hold up both objects simultaneously and ask your baby to look at one of the objects using the label you gave it. For instance, if you're holding up the "bode" and the "pote," you might say, "Look at the pote! Where's the pote? Do you see the pote?"
Make note of whether your baby looks longer at the correct object or the other object.
Now, repeat the procedure, this time using the nonsense words below.
|COLUMN 1||COLUMN 2|
At 14 months old, your baby will have an easier time correctly identifying the object associated with the target label (as measured by his looking times) when the words come from Table A.
But at 16 months, your baby will show no difference in his ability to look at the correct object, whether the words come from Table A or Table B.
In a March 2013 study, researchers studying language development conducted an experiment to see whether a word's phonetic structure affected babies' ability to learn the word.
First, a little linguistics lesson. There are different types of consonant sounds. Some, such as "b" or "p," are made with the lips. These are called labial consonants. Others, such as "d" or "t," are made with the front of the tongue. These are called coronal consonants.
It turns out than in English, French, and several other languages, the proportion of words that begin with a labial consonant followed by a coronal consonant (we'll call them LC words) is higher than the proportion of words that begin with a coronal consonant followed by a labial consonant (we'll call them CL words). Moreover, when you look at the first 50 or so words that babies pick up, the proportion of LC words is particularly high.
So, the researchers wanted to find out whether the fact that LC words are more common affects how easy it is for a baby to learn a new word.
In their experiment, they exposed one group of French-learning babies to LC words, such as those in Table A, and another group of French-learning babies to CL words, such as those in Table B. They then used eye-tracking equipment to measure the babies' responses when they were prompted to look at one of the two objects.
The study found that among 14-month-olds, the babies were better able to identify the correct object (as measured by looking times) when the words were LC; with 16-month-olds, however, there was no significant difference between LC and CL words.
The researchers concluded that the phonetic structure of a word can affect a baby's ability to learn that word in languages where that structure is more or less common -- but, at least in the case of LC versus CL words, the influence only comes into play in the early stages of language acquisition.
While these findings are certainly important to language-development researchers who are seeking to tease out how, exactly, babies come to acquire language, it's important for parents to know that the results of this study shouldn't significantly affect how they help their children pick up new words, although it might help explain why babies pick up certain words in the order that they do.
So, if you're trying to teach your baby a CL word and she hasn't quite grasped it yet, don't worry. It may take her a little longer to acquire, but eventually, its phonetic structure will not be an impediment.
Gonzalez-Gomez, Nayeli; Poltrock, Silvana; Nazzi, Thierry. "A 'Bat' Is Easier to Learn than a 'Tab': Effects of Relative Phonotactic Frequency on Infant Word Learning," PLoS ONE 8(3): e59601, March 2013.
Like this experiment?
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