This project tests specific hypotheses about the dependencies between language comprehension, acquisition, and production, particularly the role of experience in developing language skills. Whereas the role of experience is well known in vocabulary development, there is very little research on how experience affects sentence comprehension. This gap is very unfortunate because comprehension of complex sentences is critical for success in school and reading, and this domain is particularly affected by language delays or impairments.
The Principal Investigator, Maryellen MacDonald, will use her Production-Distribution-Comprehension (PDC) Framework to guide research on the role of experience in language comprehension. This includes investigations of where experience comes from in the form of documenting speakers' production choices in various situations; why speakers make those utterance choices and not others; what comprehenders can learn from the patterns of utterances that they experience in their language environment; and how knowledge of these patterns shapes subsequent comprehension.
To better understand how language production processes create linguistic patterns in the environment, language production is studied in four distinct language environments: English, Japanese, Korean, and Mandarin Chinese. Comprehension processes are studied in these same four languages in a coordinated effort that allows the researchers to relate production choices in each language to comprehension patterns in that language, yielding a much stronger test of claims than with a single language alone. Additional studies investigate how learning from experience shapes language comprehension skill. The research plan will further a number of international collaborations.
This research integrates the study of three typically-distinct fields in language processing (comprehension, production, acquisition), revealing their mutual dependence and how experience shapes processing skill. As a result, this work should provide a foundation for understanding how targeted therapeutic linguistic experiences can best be developed for those with language or reading delays or impairments.