General programme, activity sheet

Thursday 8 September, 2016 15:00 to 15:30 Oral presentation
Word bursts in (cross-linguistic) child directed speech
Speaker: Damian Blasi, University of Zurich, Max Planck Institute for the Science of Human History

Authors: Damian E. Blasi and Sabine Stoll

The frequency of occurrence of words in child directed speech is, by far, the most central and omnipresent trigger of word learning (Ambridge et al. 2015), and it regularly overlaps with other important input characteristics relevant for the acquisition process (Roy et al. 2015). Frequency of word occurrence, however, underspecifies their distribution in time. In one extreme, the repetitions of a word may be clumped (as in bursts) or distributed more equally. Experimental evidence shows that the latter might improve word (Schwartz and Terrell 1983, Childers and Tomasello 2002) and construction learning (Ambridge et al. 2006). If distributed occurrences also triggered a boost in learning in naturalistic speech settings, child directed speech might exploit this circumstance. While the study of word occurrence distributions received some attention in written corpora (Altmann et al. 2009), it is currently unclear whether this is the case in child directed speech. As part of a massive cross-linguistic project of language acquisition documentation, we evaluate these ideas by focusing on the occurrence of words and morphemes in the child directed speech of longitudinal corpora of 9 languages which are maximally diverse in their grammatical structures: Cree, Sesotho, Japanese, Turkish, Russian, Chintang, Indonesian, Yucatec and Inuktitut. We use a number of measures to characterize statistically how typically bursty or distributed words addressed to young children are. The results show a tendency for words to occur in short bursts, in consonance to the topic structure of conversation. We discuss two alternative explanations to this phenomenon: either the experimental settings are critically different from natural speech environments, or these two important aspects of language development -acquisition and conversational structure- act as opposing shaping forces of child directed speech. References Ambridge, B., Kidd, E., Rowland, C. F., & Theakston, A. L. (2015). The ubiquity of frequency effects in first language acquisition. Journal of Child Language,42(02), 239-273. Roy, B. C., Frank, M. C., DeCamp, P., Miller, M., & Roy, D. (2015). Predicting the birth of a spoken word. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences,112(41), 12663-12668. Schwartz, R. G., & Terrell, B. Y. (1983). The role of input frequency in lexical acquisition. Journal of Child Language, 10(01), 57-64. Childers, J. B., & Tomasello, M. (2002). Two-year-olds learn novel nouns, verbs, and conventional actions from massed or distributed exposures. Developmental Psychology, 38(6), 967. Ambridge, B., Theakston, A. L., Lieven, E. V., & Tomasello, M. (2006). The distributed learning effect for children's acquisition of an abstract syntactic construction. Cognitive Development, 21(2), 174-193. Altmann, E. G., Pierrehumbert, J. B., & Motter, A. E. (2009). Beyond word frequency: Bursts, lulls, and scaling in the temporal distributions of words. PLoS One, 4(11), e7678.
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New methodological approaches in language development studies
Place: Room A-15

Other activities in New methodological approaches in language development studies
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Speaker: Claudia  Kubina, Bergische Universität Wuppertal
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Speaker: Alexandra Karousou, Democritus University of Thrace
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