Early language experience in a Papuan community
Casillas, M., Brown, P., & Levinson, S. C.
Early language experience in a Papuan community. Journal of Child Language, 48
(4), 792-814. doi:10.1017/S0305000920000549.
The rate at which young children are directly spoken to varies due to many factors, including (a) caregiver ideas about children as conversational partners and (b) the organization of everyday life. Prior work suggests cross-cultural variation in rates of child-directed speech is due to the former factor, but has been fraught with confounds in comparing postindustrial and subsistence farming communities. We investigate the daylong language environments of children (0;0–3;0) on Rossel Island, Papua New Guinea, a small-scale traditional community where prior ethnographic study demonstrated contingency-seeking child interaction styles. In fact, children were infrequently directly addressed and linguistic input rate was primarily affected by situational factors, though children’s vocalization maturity showed no developmental delay. We compare the input characteristics between this community and a Tseltal Mayan one in which near-parallel methods produced comparable results, then briefly discuss the models and mechanisms for learning best supported by our findings.