We’ve got a new paper that just came out on line in JCL. Here’s the abstract, and a link to a read-only version of the full paper.
“This study explores whether children can learn a structural processing bias relevant to pronoun interpretation from brief training. Over 3 days, 42 5-year olds were exposed to narratives exhibiting a first-mentioned tendency. Two characters were introduced, and the first-mentioned was later described engaging in a solo activity. In our primary condition of interest, the Gesture Training condition, the solo-activity sentence contained an ambiguous pronoun, but co-speech gesture clarified the referent. There were two comparison conditions. In the Gender Training condition the characters were different genders, thereby avoiding ambiguity. In the Name Training condition, the first-mentioned name was simply repeated. Ambiguous pronoun interpretation was tested pre- and post-training. Children in the Gesture condition were significantly more likely to interpret ambiguous pronouns as the first-mentioned character after training. Results from the comparison conditions were ambiguous: there was a small but non-significant effect of training, but also no significant differences between conditions.”
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 <http://linguistics.ubc.ca/ubcibdb/>.
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. http://dx.doi.org/10.1037/xlm0000114)
*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.
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.”
I am so happy to be able to announce the publication of “When It Hurts (and Helps) to Try: The Role of Effort in Language Learning“, just out in PLOS ONE. This is another piece by former student Amy Finn, PhD, currently a post doc at MIT.
Here’s the abstract:
Compared to children, adults are bad at learning language. This is counterintuitive; adults outperform children on most measures of cognition, especially those that involve effort (which continue to mature into early adulthood). The present study asks whether these mature effortful abilities interfere with language learning in adults and further, whether interference occurs equally for aspects of language that adults are good (word-segmentation) versus bad (grammar) at learning. Learners were exposed to an artificial language comprised of statistically defined words that belong to phonologically defined categories (grammar). Exposure occurred under passive or effortful conditions. Passive learners were told to listen while effortful learners were instructed to try to 1) learn the words, 2) learn the categories, or 3) learn the category-order. Effortful learners showed an advantage for learning words while passive learners showed an advantage for learning the categories. Effort can therefore hurt the learning of categories.
Thanks to PLOS ONE for a great experience. Thanks also to Michael Ramscar, who gave very thoughtful and helpful commentary along the way. (He served as a reviewer, more than once. And no, it’s not a case of conflict of interest. He signs his reviews.)
Open Access publication.
I’m excited to finally be able to announce a publication on the blog! It’s a paper entitled “Learning language with the wrong neural scaffolding: the cost of neural commitment to sounds” that just came out in Frontiers in Systems Neuroscience. It’s part of a special issue on sensitive periods in development. So happy to see this work finally come out. Congratulations to first author Amy Finn!
It’s my first foray into open access publishing, and it was a great experience.
Abstract is here: Does tuning to one’s native language explain the “sensitive period” for language learning? We explore the idea that tuning to (or becoming more selective for) the properties of one’s native-language could result in being less open (or plastic) for tuning to the properties of a new language. To explore how this might lead to the sensitive period for grammar learning, we ask if tuning to an earlier-learned aspect of language (sound structure) has an impact on the neural representation of a later-learned aspect (grammar). English-speaking adults learned one of two miniature artificial languages (MALs) over 4 days in the lab. Compared to English, both languages had novel grammar, but only one was comprised of novel sounds. After learning a language, participants were scanned while judging the grammaticality of sentences. Judgments were performed for the newly learned language and English. Learners of the similar-sounds language recruited regions that overlapped more with English. Learners of the distinct-sounds language, however, recruited the Superior Temporal Gyrus (STG) to a greater extent, which was coactive with the Inferior Frontal Gyrus (IFG). Across learners, recruitment of IFG (but not STG) predicted both learning success in tests conducted prior to the scan and grammatical judgment ability during the scan. Data suggest that adults’ difficulty learning language, especially grammar, could be due, at least in part, to the neural commitments they have made to the lower level linguistic components of their native language.”