Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations

Understanding how infants acquire new words across cultures

Date:
September 27, 2013
Source:
Northwestern University
Summary:
Infants show strong universals as they acquire their native language, but a recent study with infants acquiring Korean also reveals that there are striking language differences. A new study provides the first ever evidence comparing how infants (monolingual, from Korea) acquiring Korean learn new nouns and verbs.

“What this new research tells us is that the information that infants need to ‘get’ that understanding varies, depending upon the native language they are learning. This piece of the language acquisition process is not universal; instead, it is ‘language-specific’" Waxman, says.
Credit: szeyuen / Fotolia

Infants show strong universals as they acquire their native language, but a recent study with infants acquiring Korean also reveals that there are striking language differences.

Sandra Waxman, Louis W. Menk Professor of Psychology at Northwestern University, is senior author of a new study providing the first ever evidence comparing how infants (monolingual, from Korea) acquiring Korean learn new nouns and verbs.

Researchers have long suggested that in "noun friendly" languages including English, infants' attention is focused primarily on objects, typically marked by nouns. In "verb friendly" languages including Korean, Japanese and Hindi, verbs are said to enjoy a more privileged status because infants' attention is focused more directly on the actions and relations typically marked by verbs.

"Almost all of the research on infants acquiring these "verb-friendly" languages has looked at the nouns and verbs that they produce in their daily lives," said Sudha Arunachalam, lead author of the study and assistant professor of speech and hearing sciences at Boston University.

"By using an experimental method instead, our approach lets us watch infants acquire new words, so we can get real insight into the mental processes that are at work during learning."

Waxman said their new work shows strong universals in language acquisition, but also shows some real cross-linguistic differences.

"Like infants acquiring other languages, Korean infants very successfully learn nouns to name objects such as ball, bottle and boy," Waxman said. "However, when it comes to learning verbs -- names for activities and relations -- like running, hugging, twirling, we see differences across languages."

Previous research had shown that in English, 24-month-old infants were better able to learn novel verbs for novel actions (e.g., petting) if the surrounding noun phrases were explicitly mentioned (e.g., "The girl is petting the dog") than if they were dropped from the sentence (e.g., "Look. Petting!"). In contrast, the new research shows that in Korean (a language in which noun phrases are typically dropped in conversation) 24-month-olds were better able to learn novel verbs for novel actions if the surrounding noun phrases (e.g., the girl, the dog) were dropped; in fact, unlike English-acquiring infants, those acquiring Korean struggled if the nouns were explicitly mentioned.

"We know that even before infants begin to say many verbs, they begin to understand them," Waxman said. "What this new research tells us is that the information that infants need to 'get' that understanding varies, depending upon the native language they are learning. This piece of the language acquisition process is not universal; instead, it is 'language-specific.'

"Even in the early stages of language learning, infants are shaped by the structure of their native language, so much so that the way they learn verbs is influenced by the way they've been hearing verbs in the ambient language, even before they could understand them. This means that like early speech and music perception, the structure of what infants passively hear influences how they actively learn," Waxman said.


Story Source:

The above story is based on materials provided by Northwestern University. Note: Materials may be edited for content and length.


Journal Reference:

  1. Waxman et al. Language Acquisition: A Journal of Developmental Linguistics.. Language Acquisition: A Journal of Developmental Linguistics, September 2013

Cite This Page:

Northwestern University. "Understanding how infants acquire new words across cultures." ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 27 September 2013. <www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2013/09/130927123424.htm>.
Northwestern University. (2013, September 27). Understanding how infants acquire new words across cultures. ScienceDaily. Retrieved July 24, 2014 from www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2013/09/130927123424.htm
Northwestern University. "Understanding how infants acquire new words across cultures." ScienceDaily. www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2013/09/130927123424.htm (accessed July 24, 2014).

Share This




More Mind & Brain News

Thursday, July 24, 2014

Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations


Featured Videos

from AP, Reuters, AFP, and other news services

New Painkiller Designed To Discourage Abuse: Will It Work?

New Painkiller Designed To Discourage Abuse: Will It Work?

Newsy (July 24, 2014) The FDA approved Targiniq ER on Wednesday, a painkiller designed to keep users from abusing it. Like any new medication, however, it has doubters. Video provided by Newsy
Powered by NewsLook.com
China's Ageing Millions Look Forward to Bleak Future

China's Ageing Millions Look Forward to Bleak Future

AFP (July 24, 2014) China's elderly population is expanding so quickly that children struggle to look after them, pushing them to do something unexpected in Chinese society- move their parents into a nursing home. Duration: 02:07 Video provided by AFP
Powered by NewsLook.com
Idaho Boy Helps Brother With Disabilities Complete Triathlon

Idaho Boy Helps Brother With Disabilities Complete Triathlon

Newsy (July 23, 2014) An 8-year-old boy helped his younger brother, who has a rare genetic condition that's confined him to a wheelchair, finish a triathlon. Video provided by Newsy
Powered by NewsLook.com
Huge Schizophrenia Study Finds Dozens Of New Genetic Causes

Huge Schizophrenia Study Finds Dozens Of New Genetic Causes

Newsy (July 22, 2014) The 83 new genetic markers could open dozens of new avenues for schizophrenia treatment research. Video provided by Newsy
Powered by NewsLook.com

Search ScienceDaily

Number of stories in archives: 140,361

Find with keyword(s):
Enter a keyword or phrase to search ScienceDaily for related topics and research stories.

Save/Print:
Share:

Breaking News:
from the past week

In Other News

... from NewsDaily.com

Science News

Health News

Environment News

Technology News



Save/Print:
Share:

Free Subscriptions


Get the latest science news with ScienceDaily's free email newsletters, updated daily and weekly. Or view hourly updated newsfeeds in your RSS reader:

Get Social & Mobile


Keep up to date with the latest news from ScienceDaily via social networks and mobile apps:

Have Feedback?


Tell us what you think of ScienceDaily -- we welcome both positive and negative comments. Have any problems using the site? Questions?
Mobile: iPhone Android Web
Follow: Facebook Twitter Google+
Subscribe: RSS Feeds Email Newsletters
Latest Headlines Health & Medicine Mind & Brain Space & Time Matter & Energy Computers & Math Plants & Animals Earth & Climate Fossils & Ruins