Does speed of processing or vocabulary size predict later language growth in toddlers?

Peter, M. S., Durrant, S., Jessop, A., Bidgood, A., Pine, J. M., & Rowland, C. F. (2019). Does speed of processing or vocabulary size predict later language growth in toddlers? Cognitive Psychology, 115: 101238. doi:10.1016/j.cogpsych.2019.101238.
It is becoming increasingly clear that the way that children acquire cognitive representations
depends critically on how their processing system is developing. In particular, recent studies
suggest that individual differences in language processing speed play an important role in explaining
the speed with which children acquire language. Inconsistencies across studies, however,
mean that it is not clear whether this relationship is causal or correlational, whether it is
present right across development, or whether it extends beyond word learning to affect other
aspects of language learning, like syntax acquisition. To address these issues, the current study
used the looking-while-listening paradigm devised by Fernald, Swingley, and Pinto (2001) to test
the speed with which a large longitudinal cohort of children (the Language 0–5 Project) processed
language at 19, 25, and 31 months of age, and took multiple measures of vocabulary (UKCDI,
Lincoln CDI, CDI-III) and syntax (Lincoln CDI) between 8 and 37 months of age. Processing
speed correlated with vocabulary size - though this relationship changed over time, and was
observed only when there was variation in how well the items used in the looking-while-listening
task were known. Fast processing speed was a positive predictor of subsequent vocabulary
growth, but only for children with smaller vocabularies. Faster processing speed did, however,
predict faster syntactic growth across the whole sample, even when controlling for concurrent
vocabulary. The results indicate a relatively direct relationship between processing speed and
syntactic development, but point to a more complex interaction between processing speed, vocabulary
size and subsequent vocabulary growth.
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