New paper out: Introducing the Infant Bookreading Database (IBDb)

I am very excited to be able to announce that a new paper “Introducing the Infant Bookreading Database (IBDb)” has just come out as an on-line first view paper in the Journal of Child Language. The paper, co-authored with Lisa Matthewson, describes a data-base of children’s books that came out of the survey we posted a link to a few years back, and which we’re making available to other researchers. (Click here to get to it.) Note, the paper is Open Access.

Here’s the abstract of the paper: Studies on the relationship between bookreading and language development typically lack data about which books are actually read to children. This paper reports on an Internet survey designed to address this data gap. The resulting dataset (the Infant Bookreading Database or IBDb) includes responses from 1,107 caregivers of children aged 0-36 months who answered questions about the English-language books they most commonly read to their children. The inclusion of demographic information enables analysis of subsets of data based on age, sex, or caregivers’ education level. A comparison between our dataset and those used in previous analyses reveals that there is relatively little overlap between booklists gathered from proxies such as bestseller lists and the books caregivers reported reading to children in our survey. The IBDb is available for download for use by researchers at <>.

Alexis Black and Masaki Noguchi are at BU (without me)

Alexis Black is presenting a study from her dissertation work at BUCLD on Saturday November 5th. The talk is entitled “The impact of phonological knowledge on statistical learning”.

Abstract: Current theories suggest that statistical learning is fundamental to language acquisition; much about the mechanisms underlying this capacity, however, remain unknown. Across 5 experiments we exposed 120 adult participants to an artificial language composed of either native or non-native phonemes for 2-8 minutes. We hypothesized that making the sounds more difficult to perceive and encode would alter the trajectory of the statistical learning process. Participants exposed to non-native sounds failed to distinguish words from part-words until familiarized to 4 times as much stimuli as required for native-language sounds. Learners were sensitive, however, to the difference between familiar and completely novel 3-syllable combinations after only 2 minutes of exposure. After 4 minutes of exposure, this strengthened to include a novel syllable combination at either the beginning or end of the word. These results have implications for thinking about infant learners who are in the process of acquiring their native sound inventory.

And Masaki Noguchi has a poster, also on Saturday. “Learning of talker-specific phonemic contrasts by adults”


The Language and Learning Lab is at #EvoLang11!

Oksana Tkachman will be in New Orleans at EvoLang 2016 presenting our (Tkachman & Hudson Kam) poster “Arbitrariness of Iconicity: The Sources (and Forces) of (Dis)similarities in Iconic Representations”.

It’s a reporting of our initial findings on a really cool new project Oksana is running. Here’s a brief description of what the study is about:

“Our study investigates factors that might lead to favoring some features of
referents over others in iconic representations. We investigate this by having
hearing, sign-naïve adult participants invent gestured names for easily
recognizable objects. The items participants were asked to create signs for
differed along a number of dimensions that we hypothesize might influence the
nature of the iconic representation, as shown in Figure 1. For instance, some of
the items were man-made while others were part of the natural world, as it has
been claimed that man-made objects are represented with handling (grasping)
handshapes (Padden et al., 2013). We also investigated the effect of movement
and size, for both man-made and natural categories. We anticipated that these categories would have impact on the choice of representational features; for example, the size and shape of natural objects would be encoded in the gestures, and the man-made objects would be represented by the prototypical interaction of humans with those objects.”

If you want to know what we found, go see Oksana present the poster! (Or just email either of us for a copy. Oksana:, or


“The impact of conditioning variables on the acquisition of variation in adult and child learners” just out in Language

I’m happy to be able to say that “The impact of conditioning variables on the acquisition of variation in adult and child learners” in now out in the recent issue of Language. (Note, it’s not open access.)

Abstract: “Natural human languages often contain variation (sociolinguistic or Labovian variation) that is passed from one generation of speakers to the next, but studies of acquisition have largely ignored this, instead focusing on aspects of language that are more deterministic. Theories of acquisition, however, must be able to account for both. This article examines variation from the perspective of the statistical learning framework and explores features of variation that contribute to learnability. In particular, it explores whether conditioning variables (i.e. where the pattern of variation is slightly different in different contexts) lead to better learning of variation as compared to when there are no conditioning variables, despite the former being conceptually more difficult. Data from two experiments show that adult learners are fairly good at learning patterns of both conditioned and unconditioned variation, the latter result replicating earlier studies. Five-to-seven-year old children, in contrast, had different learning outcomes for conditioned versus unconditioned variation, with fewer children regularizing or imposing deterministic patterns on the conditioned variation. However, the children who did not impose deterministic patterns did not  necessarily acquire the variation patterns the adults did.”


New (old) paper by Morrison & Hudson Kam (2009): Phonological form influences memory for form-meaning mappings in adult second-language learners.

In a previous post I committed to doing blog posts on failed conditions. One reason behind this was to be part of the solution to the hidden data problem that exists in psychology, and by extension, cognitive science. But not all hidden data are failures to find a relationship, some hidden data come from studies that have never been written up, and may never be due to time constraints. (That is a whole other problem and one I’m not going to tackle here.) In an effort to get some of those data out too, I’ve decided to post papers that for one reason or another are unlikely to ever be published.

This is the first such post. It’s a paper that resulted in part from an undergraduate honors thesis by Jessica Morrison at UC Berkeley. The paper was written up in late 2008 early 2009. It was submitted somewhere (I can’t remember where). It was rejected, but we got comments that could have been useful for reworking the paper a bit before sending it off somewhere else. Jessica left academia, and despite plans to send the paper elsewhere, it was not my highest priority. So the paper languished and now the citations are out of date. I have faced the fact that I will always have other things on my plate that are higher priority than this paper. But I think it’s a neat little project, and someone out there might find it interesting or useful. So here it is. I haven’t done anything to the manuscript other than add a statement about copyright, and put the tables and figures into the text. So it’s not the prettiest document, but it is now available, which is something it wasn’t when it was just sitting on my hard drive. And hey, it’s also open access! Just click on the highlighted names after the title to get a copy of the paper.

Title: Phonological form influences memory for form-meaning mappings in adult second-language learners. Morrison & Hudson Kam (2009)

Abstract: This study asks whether phonological form affects adult second language learners’ ability to learn the meanings of novel words. Specifically, we ask whether hard-to-pronounce words, defined as having phones/phone combinations not present in the learner’s native language, are more difficult to learn meanings for, and further, if learnability differences are due to interference from production problems or more general representational difficulties. We exposed participants to easy- and hard-to pronounce novel word-novel object pairings and tested their memory for the pairings. Participants who had either repeated words aloud, performed subvocal repetition, or heard another learner’s attempts to repeat the words during exposure performed worse on hard-to-pronounce words when tested immediately after exposure. When tested the following day, all participants, regardless of exposure condition, showed the effect. In a follow-up experiment, participants who engaged in an articulatory suppression task during learning did not have more difficulty with hard-to-pronounce words, suggesting that differences cannot simply be due to interference. Rather, we suggest that more difficult phonological forms lead to weaker representations which are then more difficult to link up with meanings in memory.

Why Segmentation Matters: Experience-Driven Segmentation Errors Impair “Morpheme” Learning – New paper out in JEP:LMC

I’m happy to announce a new paper just out on-line in JEP:LMC entitled “Why Segmentation Matters: Experience-Driven Segmentation Errors Impair
“Morpheme” Learning
“, by Amy Finn and Carla Hudson Kam.* (Warning: it’s not open access.)

Here’s the abstract: “We ask whether an adult learner’s knowledge of their native language impedes statistical learning in a new language beyond just word segmentation (as previously shown). In particular, we examine the impact of native-language word-form phonotactics on learners’ ability to segment words into their component morphemes and learn phonologically triggered variation of morphemes. We find that learning is impaired when words and component morphemes are structured to conflict with a learner’s native language phonotactic system, but not when native-language phonotactics do not conflict with morpheme boundaries in the artificial language. A learner’s native-language knowledge can therefore have a cascading impact affecting word segmentation and the morphological variation that relies upon proper segmentation. These results show that getting word segmentation right early in learning is deeply important for learning other aspects of language, even those (morphology) that are known to pose a great
difficulty for adult language learners.”

(Finn, A. S., & Hudson Kam, C. L. (2015, March 2). Why Segmentation Matters: Experience-Driven Segmentation Errors Impair “Morpheme” Learning. Journal of Experimental Psychology: Learning, Memory, and Cognition. Advance online publication.

*2015 is getting off to a pretty great start, and everyone in the lab is happy about that, but it’s worth keeping in mind that both papers out so far this year are work that’s been in progress for a very long time.

One more push on our internet survey on book reading – and some news (hint: it’s about data sharing)

I’m going to try one more big push for responses to our study on children’s bookreading. For those of you who don’t know (or have forgotten), I’m conducting a study in collaboration with Lisa Matthewson on aspects of children’s books. But before we can examine the books, we want to know which books children are being read most often. It turns out that although there is a large literature on book reading, mostly focused on what kinds of books or book reading practices seem to be related to various aspects of development (often linguistic but not always), most analyses either don’t rest on the specifics of the books or the analyzed books are chosen based on things like sales records. And much of the literature focuses on children who are older than the age we are most interested in. For all of these reasons, we decided to start by collecting information on the books children aged 0-36 months are being read most often. We are doing this via an internet survey that asks parents and caregivers some questions about the books they are reading most often to their children (in English). We have about 700 responses so far, but would like to get it to over 1000 if we can.

If you can help us get this survey out to more people, by posting it on your facebook page, tweeting a link, etc., we’d really appreciate your help. And in some exciting news, we just got permission to share the eventual data set (which does not include any identifying information about participants, so respondents don’t need to worry about anyone knowing who they are). If you are someone who is interested in children’s books, just think about how more data will be better for you too! So if you know parents of children aged 0-36 months who read books in English to their children, or have a way to get this survey out to some, any and all help is appreciated. There are no restrictions on country, monolingual vs. multilingual, or anything like that. Here’s a link to the invitation page.

Thanks for any and all help getting this out one last time.

Parents of children aged 0-36 months needed for internet survey on children’s books in English

The Language and Learning Lab at the University of British Columbia is looking for parents of children aged 0-36 months of age to participate in an internet survey regarding book reading. The survey takes approximately 10-15 minutes. If you are interested in participating, please click here.

(Feel free to pass this message along to parent friends.)

“Children’s Use of Gesture in Ambiguous Pronoun Interpretation” – New (OA) paper out in Journal of Child Language

I’m happy to announce a new paper “Children’s Use of Gesture in Ambiguous Pronoun Interpretation” just out in the Journal of Child Language by Whitney Goodrich Smith and Carla Hudson Kam. FYI: It’s published as an open access paper.

Here’s the abstract:

“This study explores whether children can use gesture to inform their interpretation of ambiguous pronouns. Specifically, we ask whether four- to eight-year-old English-speaking children are sensitive to information contained in co-referential localizing gestures in video narrations. The data show that the older (7–8 years of age) but not younger (4–5 years) children integrate co-referential gestures into their interpretation of pronouns. This is the same age at which they show sensitivity to order-of-mention, the only other cue available in the stimuli. Interestingly, when children show sensitivity to the gestures, they are quite similar to adults, in that gestures consistent with order-of-mention increase first-mentioned responses as compared to stimuli with no gestures, but only slightly, while gestures inconsistent with order-of-mention have a larger effect on interpretation, decreasing first-mentioned responses and increasing second-mentioned responses.”