Children don't say their first words until around the time of their first birthday, but research using experimental methods has shown that infants learn a great deal about their language before they start saying words. Researchers now believe that infants learn to perceive their language's speech sound categories (consonants and vowels) in the first year, and they learn to recognize dozens of words (even if they don't know what they mean). This project will help us determine how this learning happens, and how it helps children make further progress in language learning over the second year. The project begins by following up on the investigator's discovery that even infants as young as 6 months already know what some words mean;using recently developed techniques, it will be possible to tell whether infants learn abstract words as well as more concrete ones, and what kinds of learning mechanisms may be responsible. The project will also support study of the acoustics of infant-directed speech and testing of computational models of how infants might learn vowels, starting from a theory stating that knowing words helps infants learn speech sound categories. A second set of experiments will test how infants and toddlers learn to tell when two different-sounding words really are different words (like "ten" and "tin") and when they are the same (like "ten" spoken in different linguistic environments). Thus, the project will trace the development of speech sound perception and interpretation from early infancy into the second year, aiming for mechanistic explanations of the child's first steps in language acquisition.

Public Health Relevance

Early development of speech perception and speech categorization has a lifelong impact on language;language delays, late talking, and difficulties in learning to read often spring from abnormal mental processing of phonology (the language's speech sound system). The project's goal of characterizing early language development as accurately as possible will inform the causes of these disorders and will help guide decisions about the timing of treatment for hearing loss.

Agency
National Institute of Health (NIH)
Institute
Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health & Human Development (NICHD)
Type
Research Project (R01)
Project #
5R01HD049681-07
Application #
8598810
Study Section
Special Emphasis Panel (ZRG1-BBBP-T (05))
Program Officer
Freund, Lisa S
Project Start
2005-04-01
Project End
2017-12-31
Budget Start
2014-01-01
Budget End
2014-12-31
Support Year
7
Fiscal Year
2014
Total Cost
$293,810
Indirect Cost
$104,912
Name
University of Pennsylvania
Department
Psychology
Type
Schools of Arts and Sciences
DUNS #
042250712
City
Philadelphia
State
PA
Country
United States
Zip Code
19104
Quam, Carolyn; Swingley, Daniel (2014) Processing of lexical stress cues by young children. J Exp Child Psychol 123:73-89
Bergelson, Elika; Swingley, Daniel (2013) The acquisition of abstract words by young infants. Cognition 127:391-7
Bergelson, Elika; Swingley, Daniel (2013) Young toddlers' word comprehension is flexible and efficient. PLoS One 8:e73359
Quam, Carolyn; Swingley, Daniel (2012) Development in children's interpretation of pitch cues to emotions. Child Dev 83:236-50
Bergelson, Elika; Swingley, Daniel (2012) At 6-9 months, human infants know the meanings of many common nouns. Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A 109:3253-8
van der Feest, Suzanne V H; Swingley, Daniel (2011) Dutch and English listeners' interpretation of vowel duration. J Acoust Soc Am 129:EL57-63
Quam, Carolyn; Swingley, Daniel (2010) Phonological Knowledge Guides Two-year-olds' and Adults' Interpretation of Salient Pitch Contours in Word Learning. J Mem Lang 62:135-150
Lupyan, Gary; Thompson-Schill, Sharon L; Swingley, Daniel (2010) Conceptual penetration of visual processing. Psychol Sci 21:682-91
Swingley, Daniel (2009) Contributions of infant word learning to language development. Philos Trans R Soc Lond B Biol Sci 364:3617-32
Swingley, Daniel (2009) Onsets and codas in 1.5-year-olds'word recognition. J Mem Lang 60:252-269

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