Little evidence for a noun bias in Tseltal spontaneous speech

Casillas, M., Foushee, R., Méndez Girón, J., Polian, G., & Brown, P. (2024). Little evidence for a noun bias in Tseltal spontaneous speech. First Language. Advance online publication. doi:10.1177/01427237231216571.
This study examines whether children acquiring Tseltal (Mayan) demonstrate a noun bias – an overrepresentation of nouns in their early vocabularies. Nouns, specifically concrete and animate nouns, are argued to universally predominate in children’s early vocabularies because their referents are naturally available as bounded concepts to which linguistic labels can be mapped. This early advantage for noun learning has been documented using multiple methods and across a diverse collection of language populations. However, past evidence bearing on a noun bias in Tseltal learners has been mixed. Tseltal grammatical features and child–caregiver interactional patterns dampen the salience of nouns and heighten the salience of verbs, leading to the prediction of a diminished noun bias and perhaps even an early predominance of verbs. We here analyze the use of noun and verb stems in children’s spontaneous speech from egocentric daylong recordings of 29 Tseltal learners between 0;9 and 4;4. We find weak to no evidence for a noun bias using two separate analytical approaches on the same data; one analysis yields a preliminary suggestion of a flipped outcome (i.e. a verb bias). We discuss the implications of these findings for broader theories of learning bias in early lexical development.
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