Infants are able to learn grammatical regularities in a novel language surprisingly early and at a remarkable speed. In a study at the Max Planck Institute for Human Cognitive and Brain Sciences in Leipzig, researchers working with Angela Friederici showed that the brains of babies were able to learn grammatical relationships between sentence elements in less than 15 minutes and reacted to errors that broke these rules. This was investigated by playing recordings of sentences in Italian to four month old German babies and taking EEG measurements. (PlosOne, 22. 03. 2011)
The speed with which children learn languages amazes both parents and researchers. They very quickly learn new words and recognise grammatical rules which link these words in a sentence. It is a well-known fact that very young children can recognise the relationships between adjacent syllables when these frequently appear together. Grammatical rules, in contrast, often apply to elements that are separated in a sentence. Until now, it was thought that comprehension of these rules develops at approximately 18 months of age. “That seemed to be very late,” says Angela Freiderici, Director of the Department of Neuropsychology at the Max Planck Institute for Human Cognitive and Brain Sciences. In order to test the ability of very young children to learn such rules, Friederici and her colleagues presented sentences in a foreign language – in this case, Italian – to four month old German infants.
The sentences were specially adapted and had two grammatical constructions. One used the auxiliary verb “può” (can) and a verb with the infinitive ending “-are”, as in the sentence “Il fratello può cantare” (the brother can sing); the other contained a gerund. This was constructed with the auxiliary “sta” (is) and a verb with the ending “-ando”, as in, for example, “La sorella sta cantando” (the sister is singing).
The infants heard correct sentences constructed using these two structures in learning phases that were approximately three minutes long, followed by a short test phase. In this test phase, correct and incorrect sentences were randomly played. Incorrect sentences included an error as in “Il fratello sta cantare” (the brother is sing) or “La sorella può cantando” (the sister can singing). This was repeated four times. EEG measurements of brain activity showed that the children had learned that “può” and “-are” and “sta” and “-ando” belong together. While the processing of correct and incorrect sentences initially resulted in highly similar EEG patterns, in the fourth test phase – after a learning period of less than 15 minutes – very different activation patterns emerged.
“Naturally, at this age, infants do not notice content-related errors,” says Friederici. “Long before they comprehend meaning, babies recognize and generalize regularities from the sound of language.” The brain apparently filters out grammatical relationships from sentences it hears, and is capable of recognizing irregularities in these patterns it has learned within a very short time.
These early processes of extracting regularities from the input are an important element for later language acquisition. Interestingly, early language acquisition differs significantly from the way in which adults learn a foreign language. Adult learners rather seem to focus more on semantic relationships, that is, on the meaning of sentences.
Barbara Abrell | Max-Planck-Gesellschaft
The birth of a new protein
20.10.2017 | University of Arizona
Building New Moss Factories
20.10.2017 | Albert-Ludwigs-Universität Freiburg im Breisgau
University of Maryland researchers contribute to historic detection of gravitational waves and light created by event
On August 17, 2017, at 12:41:04 UTC, scientists made the first direct observation of a merger between two neutron stars--the dense, collapsed cores that remain...
Seven new papers describe the first-ever detection of light from a gravitational wave source. The event, caused by two neutron stars colliding and merging together, was dubbed GW170817 because it sent ripples through space-time that reached Earth on 2017 August 17. Around the world, hundreds of excited astronomers mobilized quickly and were able to observe the event using numerous telescopes, providing a wealth of new data.
Previous detections of gravitational waves have all involved the merger of two black holes, a feat that won the 2017 Nobel Prize in Physics earlier this month....
Material defects in end products can quickly result in failures in many areas of industry, and have a massive impact on the safe use of their products. This is why, in the field of quality assurance, intelligent, nondestructive sensor systems play a key role. They allow testing components and parts in a rapid and cost-efficient manner without destroying the actual product or changing its surface. Experts from the Fraunhofer IZFP in Saarbrücken will be presenting two exhibits at the Blechexpo in Stuttgart from 7–10 November 2017 that allow fast, reliable, and automated characterization of materials and detection of defects (Hall 5, Booth 5306).
When quality testing uses time-consuming destructive test methods, it can result in enormous costs due to damaging or destroying the products. And given that...
Using a new cooling technique MPQ scientists succeed at observing collisions in a dense beam of cold and slow dipolar molecules.
How do chemical reactions proceed at extremely low temperatures? The answer requires the investigation of molecular samples that are cold, dense, and slow at...
Scientists from the Max Planck Institute of Quantum Optics, using high precision laser spectroscopy of atomic hydrogen, confirm the surprisingly small value of the proton radius determined from muonic hydrogen.
It was one of the breakthroughs of the year 2010: Laser spectroscopy of muonic hydrogen resulted in a value for the proton charge radius that was significantly...
17.10.2017 | Event News
10.10.2017 | Event News
10.10.2017 | Event News
20.10.2017 | Information Technology
20.10.2017 | Materials Sciences
20.10.2017 | Interdisciplinary Research