Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations

The order of words: Understanding differences in how children and adults learn

Date:
October 3, 2013
Source:
Sissa Medialab
Summary:
There are words that convey a meaning, like verbs, nouns or adjectives, and others, like articles or conjunctions that sustain them, providing a structure for the sentence. A few years ago some scientists showed that the order of the two categories of words within a sentence is important for language acquisition in infants already in their first year of life. Today new study shows that adults also have similar preferences. A phenomenon that may help understanding the differences between how children and adults learn.

There are words that convey a meaning, like verbs, nouns or adjectives, and others, like articles or conjunctions that sustain them, providing a structure for the sentence. A few years ago some scientists of the International School for Advanced Studies (SISSA) of Trieste, together with collaborators from other Universities, showed that the order of the two categories of words within a sentence is important for language acquisition in infants already in their first year of life. Today a study, carried out by the same SISSA scientists, shows that also adults have similar preferences. A phenomenon that may help understanding the differences between how children and adults learn.

Related Articles


Think of a frequently used noun or verb in our language. Try to count how many times you have uttered it in the last two hours. Now, do the same with the article "the." The language we speak is not only made of content words (nouns, verbs, adjectives, for instance) but also of lots of words that provide a support to them (articles, prepositions, etc.) that are used much more frequently than the first (function words, or functors). Despite the huge variability of known languages, language scientists were able to divide them roughly into two main categories: the languages in which the functor precedes the content word -- and that use a Verb-Object order (VO) -- and vice versa (OV). The experimental observations showed that the frequency of the terms is a clue that helps identifying to which category a language belongs and, as a consequence, "tuning in" to it.

Knowing the language's structure enables the individual to segment the speech (to divide the language flow into single words) and affects language learnability. This effect has been observed also in very young children for some languages, such as Italian and Japanese. Now a group of neuroscientists including Jacques Mehler and Marina Nespor of the International School for Advanced Studies (SISSA) of Trieste have extended the experiment also to adults, employing a wider range of languages. The research has been published in the review Frontiers in Psychology.

The experiment was carried on Italian and French native speakers (in representation of the VO language group), and on Japanese and Basque native speakers (OV languages), carrying out learning tasks centered on sentences in an artificial (invented) language that could feature one of the two order structures. "In the previous studies we observed that infants as young as 8-month-old already 'prefer' an artificial language that mirrors the structure of their native language," explains Nespor. "In this new series of studies we have observed this type of preference also in adults."

"This would also explain the increasingly greater difficulties encountered in learning a new language when growing up. Children, while showing such preference precociously, are in fact much more flexible and can easily learn also a language that has a different word order from their own, while adults seem to be more rigidly tied to their native language scheme." adds Nespor. "Of course, when learning a language, also other variables come into play such as lexicon and prosody" concludes the neuroscientist.


Story Source:

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


Journal Reference:

  1. Judit Gervain, Núria Sebastián-Gallés, Begoña Díaz, Itziar Laka, Reiko Mazuka, Naoto Yamane, Marina Nespor, Jacques Mehler. Word frequency cues word order in adults: cross-linguistic evidence. Frontiers in Psychology, 2013; 4 DOI: 10.3389/fpsyg.2013.00689

Cite This Page:

Sissa Medialab. "The order of words: Understanding differences in how children and adults learn." ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 3 October 2013. <www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2013/10/131003093048.htm>.
Sissa Medialab. (2013, October 3). The order of words: Understanding differences in how children and adults learn. ScienceDaily. Retrieved December 21, 2014 from www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2013/10/131003093048.htm
Sissa Medialab. "The order of words: Understanding differences in how children and adults learn." ScienceDaily. www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2013/10/131003093048.htm (accessed December 21, 2014).

Share This


More From ScienceDaily



More Mind & Brain News

Sunday, December 21, 2014

Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations


Featured Videos

from AP, Reuters, AFP, and other news services

Researchers Test Colombian Village With High Alzheimer's Rates

Researchers Test Colombian Village With High Alzheimer's Rates

AFP (Dec. 19, 2014) — In Yarumal, a village in N. Colombia, Alzheimer's has ravaged a disproportionately large number of families. A genetic "curse" that may pave the way for research on how to treat the disease that claims a new victim every four seconds. Duration: 02:42 Video provided by AFP
Powered by NewsLook.com
Double-Amputee Becomes First To Move Two Prosthetic Arms With His Mind

Double-Amputee Becomes First To Move Two Prosthetic Arms With His Mind

Buzz60 (Dec. 19, 2014) — A double-amputee makes history by becoming the first person to wear and operate two prosthetic arms using only his mind. Jen Markham has the story. Video provided by Buzz60
Powered by NewsLook.com
Prenatal Exposure To Pollution Might Increase Autism Risk

Prenatal Exposure To Pollution Might Increase Autism Risk

Newsy (Dec. 18, 2014) — Harvard researchers found children whose mothers were exposed to high pollution levels in the third trimester were twice as likely to develop autism. Video provided by Newsy
Powered by NewsLook.com
Yoga Could Be As Beneficial For The Heart As Walking, Biking

Yoga Could Be As Beneficial For The Heart As Walking, Biking

Newsy (Dec. 17, 2014) — Yoga can help your weight, blood pressure, cholesterol and heart just as much as biking and walking does, a new study suggests. 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:

Strange & Offbeat Stories

 

Health & Medicine

Mind & Brain

Living & Well

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