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.

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 July 24, 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 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