Infants Grasp Grammar Early

Article excerpt

Infants appear to understand much more than they are given credit for. They seem "to learn words and grammar simultaneously," according to George Hollich, director of the Infant Language Lab and assistant professor of psychological sciences, Purdue University, West Lafayette, Ind. "This underscores the importance of talking to them, early and often.

"If you consider the almost infinite number of words, as well as the potential mappings between words and meanings, learning a language ought to be impossible. Our studies are determining how infants discover words in the fluent stream of speech, how they learn the meaning of those words, and how they come to understand grammar."

It had been believed that children learn language step-by-step from one word to the next, but Hollich's research indicates that infants may be learning words and grammar simultaneously. For example, in one study, he is attempting to find out if infants understand just words, or if they can understand the entire sentence. "Do they understand, `Where is the flower?' vs. `What hit the flower?' or are they hearing, `Blah, blah, blah flower?'" The baby is shown a series of short, animated sequences, such as an apple repetitively colliding with a flower. Then another screen will show the apple in one corner and the flower in the other. A voice asks, "What hit the flower?"

Because these babies don't talk, their answers are recorded by how long they gaze at each item. …