This project examines the relationship between cognitive and linguistic representations of spatial events in children. Classic theories of cognitive and linguistic development assume that spatial concepts are largely universal and that spatial language (e.g. the expression of spatial locations, paths and motions) maps directly onto preexisting, shared spatial categories. More recent theories, pointing to wide cross-linguistic differences in spatial encoding, suggest that important aspects of spatial cognition may not be universal but may be shaped by exposure to the way spatial relations are encoded within a specific language. The goal of this project is to investigate the processes underlying both the processing and the acquisition of spatial vocabulary in populations speaking different languages so as to disentangle language-specific from language- independent (potentially universal) components of spatial language. The proposed plan combines cross-linguistic behavioral experiments with eye tracking methods, allowing us to examine the moment-by-moment processes underlying the assembly of spatial descriptions, as well as the processes supporting the acquisition of novel spatial terms in controlled experimental settings. This is the first time this combination of convergent methods has been used to study how linguistic and nonlinguistic representations come together in the minds of young and more experienced speakers cross-linguistically. This integrated approach views the mapping from spatial event perception to language as a dynamic process, one that unfolds along multiple time scales ranging from milliseconds (as in planning and understanding utterances) to years (as in developing the ability to speak one's native language). This basic research program will inform theories of normal language development and processing and may ultimately contribute to accounts of linguistic and conceptual development in bilingual populations and children with specific language impairments. The eye tracking techniques developed for this project can lead to interventions for children with atypical linguistic and cognitive development, and in some form serve as a diagnostic of cognitive and linguistic difficulties in patients with different types of brain lesions or aphasias. Our toolbox could also be used to inform studies of bilingualism (e.g., by investigating connections between language and mental representation). ? ? ?

National Institute of Health (NIH)
Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health & Human Development (NICHD)
Research Project (R01)
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Language and Communication Study Section (LCOM)
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Mccardle, Peggy D
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University of Delaware
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United States
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Bunger, Ann; Skordos, Dimitrios; Trueswell, John C et al. (2016) How Children and Adults Encode Causative Events Cross-Linguistically: Implications for Language Production and Attention. Lang Cogn Neurosci 31:1015-1037
Skordos, Dimitrios; Papafragou, Anna (2014) Lexical, syntactic, and semantic-geometric factors in the acquisition of motion predicates. Dev Psychol 50:1985-98
Hafri, Alon; Papafragou, Anna; Trueswell, John C (2013) Getting the gist of events: recognition of two-participant actions from brief displays. J Exp Psychol Gen 142:880-905
Bunger, Ann; Papafragou, Anna; Trueswell, John C (2013) Event Structure Influences Language Production: Evidence from Structural Priming in Motion Event Description. J Mem Lang 69:299-323
Bunger, Ann; Trueswell, John C; Papafragou, Anna (2012) The relation between event apprehension and utterance formulation in children: Evidence from linguistic omissions. Cognition 122:135-49
Papafragou, Anna (2010) Source-goal asymmetries in motion representation: Implications for language production and comprehension. Cogn Sci 34:1064-1092