The Web of Language

blog navigation

Dennis Baron's go-to site for language and technology in the news

blog posts

  • Britain's "Communication Champion": Parents don't have time, so kids don't talk

Comments Jan 7, 2010 9:48 am

There actually has been some work showing (to many, including me, initially counterintuitive) correlations between caregiver speech (both amount metrics and kind and speed of acquisition of particular morphosyntactic facts) and children's acquisition of target grammars and lexicons. I'm no expert in this area, but relevant certainly is the following: "Early vocabulary growth: Relation to language input and gender." By Huttenlocher, Janellen; Haight, Wendy; Bryk, Anthony; Seltzer, Michael; Lyons, Thomas, Developmental Psychology. Vol 27(2), Mar 1991, 236-248.Abstract: Examines the role of exposure to speech in children's early vocabulary growth. It is generally assumed that individual differences in vocabulary depend, in large part, on variations in learning capacity. However, variations in exposure have not been systematically explored. In this study vocabulary growth rates are characterized for each of 22 children by using data obtained at several time points from 14 to 26 mo. A substantial relation between individual differences in vocabulary acquisition and variations in the amount that particular mothers speak to their children was found. It is argued that the relation between amount of parent speech and vocabulary growth reflects parent effects on the child, rather than child-ability effects on the parent or hereditary factors. It was also found that gender is an important factor in rate of vocabulary growth. (PsycINFO Database Record (c) 2009 APA, all rights reserved)See also "Toward a Theory of Gradual Morphosyntactic Learning" by Matthew Rispoli & Pamela Hadley, Department of Speech and Hearing ScienceUniversity of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign, who write that "More rapid child growth was correlated with more informative caregiver speech" (though their interests weren't in vocabulary size, and all children presumably eventually acquired the target grammar). Lastly, the correlation between vocabulary size of children and their caregivers' socioeconomic status is made explicitly, if memory serves, in Huttenlocher, J., Waterfall, H., Vasilyeva, M., Vevea, J., & Hedges, L. (submitted), "How Caregiver Speech Affects Childrens Language Growth". None of this is to argue that Ms. Gross has chosen a particularly efficacious way of going about her set task, but merely to point out that there is some scientific literature addressing these questions, and that her numbers may indeed have some support in that literature.

Reply to at 9:48 am