Forum for Science, Industry and Business

Sponsored by:     3M 
Search our Site:

 

The roots of grammar: New study shows children innately prepared to learn language

06.06.2007
To learn a language, a child must learn a set of all-purpose rules, such as “a sentence can be formed by combining a subject, a verb and an object” that can be used in an infinite number of ways. A new study shows that by the age of seven months, human infants are on the lookout for abstract rules – and that they know the best place to look for such abstractions is in human speech.

In a series of experiments appearing in the May issue of Psychological Science, a journal of the Association for Psychological Science, Gary Marcus and co-authors Keith Fernandes and Scott Johnson at New York University exposed infants to abstractly structured sequences that consisted of either speech syllables or nonspeech sounds.

Once infants became familiar with these sequences, Marcus and his colleagues presented the infants four new unique sequences: Two of these new sequences were consistent with the familiarization “grammar,” while two were inconsistent. For example, given familiarization with la ta ta, ge lai lai, consistent test sentences would include wo fe fe and de ko ko (ABB), while inconsistent sentences would include wo wo fe and de de ko (AAB). They then measured how long infants attended to each sequence in order to determine whether they recognized the previously learned grammar.

In the first two experiments, the researchers examined infants’ rule learning using sequences of tones, sung syllables, musical instruments of varying timbres and animal noises.

Across both experiments, infants were able to identify rules only when exposed to speech sequences (versus nonspeech sequences). These findings are significant, says Marcus, because “the essence of language is learning rules, and these results suggest that young infants are specifically prepared to learn these rules from speech.”

In a third experiment, the researchers discovered another intriguing result: Infants were able to generalize rules learned from speech to the sequences of nonspeech sounds, even though they couldn’t directly learn rules from the nonspeech stimuli. Infants were again familiarized with structured sequences of speech and then tested on their ability to recognize those same structures in sequences of tones, timbres, and animal sounds. Infants who received this pre-exposure to structured sequences of speech were able to recognize these same structures in the nonlinguistic stimuli. This shows, according to Marcus, that “infants’ drive to understand the abstract patterns underlying speech must be much stronger than their pull towards understanding abstraction in other domains.”

“Infants may analyze speech more deeply than other signals because it is highly familiar or highly salient, because it is produced by humans, because it is inherently capable of bearing meaning, or because it bears some not-yet-identified acoustic property that draws the attention of the rule-induction system,” writes Marcus.

“Regardless, from birth, infants prefer listening to speech,” he continues, “and the intriguing patterns we have observed in rule learning and transfer could in some way be an extension of that initial, profound interest in speech.”

Catherine West | EurekAlert!
Further information:
http://www.psychologicalscience.org

More articles from Studies and Analyses:

nachricht Physics of bubbles could explain language patterns
25.07.2017 | University of Portsmouth

nachricht Obstructing the ‘inner eye’
07.07.2017 | Friedrich-Schiller-Universität Jena

All articles from Studies and Analyses >>>

The most recent press releases about innovation >>>

Die letzten 5 Focus-News des innovations-reports im Überblick:

Im Focus: Carbon Nanotubes Turn Electrical Current into Light-emitting Quasi-particles

Strong light-matter coupling in these semiconducting tubes may hold the key to electrically pumped lasers

Light-matter quasi-particles can be generated electrically in semiconducting carbon nanotubes. Material scientists and physicists from Heidelberg University...

Im Focus: Flexible proximity sensor creates smart surfaces

Fraunhofer IPA has developed a proximity sensor made from silicone and carbon nanotubes (CNT) which detects objects and determines their position. The materials and printing process used mean that the sensor is extremely flexible, economical and can be used for large surfaces. Industry and research partners can use and further develop this innovation straight away.

At first glance, the proximity sensor appears to be nothing special: a thin, elastic layer of silicone onto which black square surfaces are printed, but these...

Im Focus: 3-D scanning with water

3-D shape acquisition using water displacement as the shape sensor for the reconstruction of complex objects

A global team of computer scientists and engineers have developed an innovative technique that more completely reconstructs challenging 3D objects. An ancient...

Im Focus: Manipulating Electron Spins Without Loss of Information

Physicists have developed a new technique that uses electrical voltages to control the electron spin on a chip. The newly-developed method provides protection from spin decay, meaning that the contained information can be maintained and transmitted over comparatively large distances, as has been demonstrated by a team from the University of Basel’s Department of Physics and the Swiss Nanoscience Institute. The results have been published in Physical Review X.

For several years, researchers have been trying to use the spin of an electron to store and transmit information. The spin of each electron is always coupled...

Im Focus: The proton precisely weighted

What is the mass of a proton? Scientists from Germany and Japan successfully did an important step towards the most exact knowledge of this fundamental constant. By means of precision measurements on a single proton, they could improve the precision by a factor of three and also correct the existing value.

To determine the mass of a single proton still more accurate – a group of physicists led by Klaus Blaum and Sven Sturm of the Max Planck Institute for Nuclear...

All Focus news of the innovation-report >>>

Anzeige

Anzeige

Event News

Closing the Sustainability Circle: Protection of Food with Biobased Materials

21.07.2017 | Event News

»We are bringing Additive Manufacturing to SMEs«

19.07.2017 | Event News

The technology with a feel for feelings

12.07.2017 | Event News

 
Latest News

NASA mission surfs through waves in space to understand space weather

25.07.2017 | Physics and Astronomy

Strength of tectonic plates may explain shape of the Tibetan Plateau, study finds

25.07.2017 | Earth Sciences

The dense vessel network regulates formation of thrombocytes in the bone marrow

25.07.2017 | Life Sciences

VideoLinks
B2B-VideoLinks
More VideoLinks >>>