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Turn taking, timing, and planning in early language acquisition

Casillas, M., Bobb, S. C., & Clark, E. V. (2016). Turn taking, timing, and planning in early language acquisition. Journal of Child Language, 43, 1310-1337. doi:10.1017/S0305000915000689.
Young children answer questions with longer delays than adults do, and they don't reach typical adult response times until several years later. We hypothesized that this prolonged pattern of delay in children's timing results from competing demands: to give an answer, children must understand a question while simultaneously planning and initiating their response. Even as children get older and more efficient in this process, the demands on them increase because their verbal responses become more complex. We analyzed conversational question-answer sequences between caregivers and their children from ages 1;8 to 3;5, finding that children (1) initiate simple answers more quickly than complex ones, (2) initiate simple answers quickly from an early age, and (3) initiate complex answers more quickly as they grow older. Our results suggest that children aim to respond quickly from the start, improving on earlier-acquired answer types while they begin to practice later-acquired, slower ones.

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The Max Planck Institute for Psycholinguistics is an institute of the German Max Planck Society. Our mission is to undertake basic research into the psychological,social and biological foundations of language. The goal is to understand how our minds and brains process language, how language interacts with other aspects of mind, and how we can learn languages of quite different types.

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