Babies are usually able to say a few words by the age of 18 months. This ability is the result of a long, physical and psychological process. New research by the University of Notre Dame, USA, shows that babies already start to track word patterns before they are able to speak.
“My research suggests that there are some surprising clues in the sound stream that may help babies learn the meanings of words,” said Jill Lany, assistant professor of psychology and director of Notre Dame’s baby lab, where the research was made. “They can distinguish different kinds of words like nouns and verbs by information in that sound stream.”
This way, during the first 18 months, the babies would be picking up information that would be useful for subsequent word and grammar learning. They would take the structure of the sentence and figure out the meaning of the new words through the recognizable pattern.
“If I were to say to you, ‘Oh look, it’s a dax,’ you might not know what a ‘dax’ is, but the cue ‘it’s a’ lets a baby know that what follows is an object,” Lany says.
This discovery means that grammar learning would be in the very first stages of learning, and not just after the main words are assimilated, as commonly thought. And also reveals that babies are great, attentive listeners.
Jill Lany, & Jenny R. Saffra (2011).
Interactions between statistical and semantic information
in infant language developmen Developmental Science : 10.1111/j.1467-7687.2011.01073.x