Eight-month-old babies have mastered words

French scientists have found that at the age of eight months, young children can discern in the language of function words and words with a lexical value based on their frequency. To do this, the researchers conducted six experiments using pseudolanguage composed of frequency words function words, and less frequency — those which marked common nouns. Infants not yet able to speak, able to determine the grammatical category, and realized that more frequency function words should go first in the sentence, and must be a closed class, write the scientists in Current Biology.

The first words in child’s vocabulary — nouns is always that very logical: first of all, language is a means of communication, and the necessary small child communicative function (e.g. to attract the attention of the mother) do exactly nouns. Function words (articles, prepositions, pronouns and others) have played a more secondary role — from them depends entirely on the child’s comprehension of grammar of the native language. It is unclear however when exactly the child starts understanding that such a lexical unit, and that — the service: even before the learned function of the first article or preposition, or already in the process.

Function words — a rather conservative linguistic units, which primarily differ in their incidence and small in length (in accordance with the law of the brevity of texts — related dimensions). Scientists under the leadership of Judy Gerwen (Judit Gervain) from the University Paris Descartes decided to check, does the understanding of infants the difference between official and other language units from frequency — and if so, at what age it occurs.

The scientists focused on eight-month-old infants of French-speaking mothers — in total there were 175. At this age children are still not able to speak, so the researchers used are not real words in the French language, and phonetically relevant of pseudoloma consisting of a single syllable (vowel and consonant). Pseudoloma were divided into two groups and combined them into sentences with a ratio of nine to one (nine official words and one with lexical value) and included young children to discover. After that, the children included new words of the same pseudo in them, depending on the experiment, we have changed the word order, as well as new, unknown words.

The reaction of the children was assessed using the experimental paradigm of turning the head to the stimulus. The child on the lap of a parent put in a room with speakers and screens left, right and front. During familiarization with pseudoatom flashing a screen in front: when the child’s attention goes to him, turns on the sound. In the experimental phase of the visual stimulus and the sound is first served with one side and then on the other; the stimuli used are different, and in fact in which direction a kid looks evaluate which attracted him more than either its novelty, or the fact that the child seems more understandable.

In the first experiment infants more (p = 0.0003) looked towards the screen where the speaker uttered the phrase in which over frequency, that is, function words, went before the rest, that is, words with a value. This corresponds to the grammar of the French language in which function words in fact are front of the others (for example, “à Paris” — “Paris”).

In the second experiment frequency (utility) words mixed with the new — those kids haven’t heard. As in the previous experiment, the infants more often (p = 0.017) looking toward the screen from the speaker which could be heard the frequency of sentences with the words standing at the beginning. In the third experiment, in turn, children do not have a preference for either word order (p = to 0.506), as it was used less frequency, that is, lexical words, and the words that the children have not heard. From the results of these two experiments, scientists have concluded that the system of official words for kids in fact, more conservative and less amenable to change — in the same way as adults who already know the language.

In the fourth experiment, the researchers used sentences consisting of either only nechistoty pseudoself or from new — to see whether infants see the difference between them. The proposals consist only of new pseudostem, infants are more attracted (p < 0.0001), from which scientists have concluded that other kids are already well acquainted — they do not seem to them something new, so the attention on them they don’t pay.

Finally, in the fifth and sixth experiment used sentences that consisted either of new pseudoself, or from new and nechistoty: in the latter case, the order of the words from each group differed significantly (that is, the proposal could start with either netcasting or a new word). It turned out that children prefer those proposals that nechistoty words stand in his usual position — that is, after other words, even if these words are new and unknown (p = 0.019).

Summarizing all the results, the researchers concluded that what a word should be in the offer in the beginning, babies decide on the basis of the frequency of the word, i.e. understood as the concept of a sentence and they differ from ordinary — those that convey any meaning. Also babies learn that word class is quite closed, and it can not get there: most likely, therefore, it will belong to another class.

But to allocate in the flow of speech individual words babies can still early, immediately after birth, at the age of three days. They focus on the phonetic features of words.

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