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Young children can predict upcoming words
Two-year-olds, especially children with large production vocabularies, are able to predict upcoming words in a sentence, Falk Huettig (MPI and RU) and Nivedita Mani (Georg-August-Universität Göttingen) recently discovered. Their study 'Prediction during language processing is a piece of cake - But only for skilled producers' was published in the Journal of Experimental Psychology: Human Perception and Performance.
August 15, 2012When two-year-olds hear a sentence like, “The boy eats a big cake,” they fixate on edible objects in a visual scene (a cake) soon after they hear the (semantically constraining) verb eats and prior to hearing the word cake. Moreover, children's prediction ability depends on their production skills and not to their comprehension skills. "Prediction is a piece of cake, but only for skilled producers," the authors conclude in their paper.
Piece of cakeIn the study, each child was presented with 12 test trials. Prior to the test trials, children were shown a cartoon of a boy and a girl, and were told that they were going to hear some stories about them. Each test trial then began with the presentation of two images of familiar objects side-by-side on the screen, followed by a sentence containing either a semantically constraining or semantically neutral verb related to one of the images on the screen. For instance, children saw a picture of a cake (Kuchen) and a bird (Vogel), and heard either a sentence containing a semantically constraining verb (“The boy eats the big cake”) or a sentence containing a neutral verb (“The boy sees the big cake”).
The researchers found that children fixate on the target image (e.g., cake, Kuchen) earlier while listening to sentences containing semantically constraining verbs (eats, isst) compared to neutral verbs (sees, sieht). Their findings confirm that 2-year-olds, like adults, are successfully able to predict upcoming linguistic input that is a thematic fit to familiar verbs.