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Baby talk: The roots of the early vocabulary in infants' learning from speech
Date:10/30/2008

Although babies typically start talking around 12 months of age, their brains actually begin processing certain aspects of language much earlier, so that by the time they start talking, babies actually already know hundreds of words. While studying language acquisition in infants can be a challenging endeavor, researchers have begun to make significant progress that changes previous views of what infants learn, according to a new report by University of Pennsylvania psychologist Daniel Swingley. The report, published in the October issue of Current Directions in Psychological Science, a journal of the Association for Psychological Science, describes an increasing emphasis among researchers in studying vocabulary development in infants.

Infants have a unique ability to discriminate speech-sound (phonetic) differences, but over time they lose this skill for differentiating sounds in languages other than their native tongue. For example, 6 month old babies who were learning English were able to distinguish between similar-sounding Hindi consonants not found in English, but they lost this ability by 12 months of age. Since the 1980s it has been known that infants start focusing on their language's consonants and vowels, sometimes to the exclusion of non-native sounds. More recently, researchers have increasingly focused on how infants handle whole words.

Recent research has shown that during infancy, babies learn not only individual speech sounds but also the auditory forms of words; that is, babies are not only aware of the pieces that make up a word, but they are aware of the entire word. These auditory forms of words allow children to increase their vocabulary and help them to eventually develop grammar. Although they may not know what the words mean, children as early as 8 months start learning the phonological (sound) forms of words and are able to recognize themand just being familiar with the words helps increase the children's vocab
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Contact: Barbara Isanski
bisanski@psychologicalscience.org
Association for Psychological Science
Source:Eurekalert

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