Methods of Child Language Study

Methods of Child Language
C. Ray Graham
Ancient Roots
Research Question: What is the oldest race
of human beings?
Researcher: Psammetichus, King of Egypt
Underlying Theory: Strong form of the
innatist hypothesis
Design: Longitudinal Case Study
Method: Shepherd ordered to raise two
children, caring for their needs but not
speaking to them.
Hypothesis: The first words to be spoken would
indicate that Egyptian was the oldest culture on
Results: After two years the shepherd went to
their quarters one day and the children came
running with outstretched arms and said,
“Becos,” which was not a word in Egyptian.
Upon enquiry it was determined that becos
meant “bread” in the Phrygian language.
Conclusions: Egyptian was the second oldest race
of humans after the Phrygians.
Source: Book 2 of History by Herodotus abt 440
Late 19th and Early 20th Centruies
• Diary studies
– Bloch (1913-24) French
– Bokonyi (1918) Hungarian
– Boksis (1939) Russian
• Bilingualism
• Vocabulary studies
Binet (1902) French
Bush (1914)
Campbell (1901)
• Phonology
• Abnormal Langauge
Mid 1900s
• Normal Language Development
• Abnormal Language Development
– Stuttering (Boland 1951, Blumel
1960,Bloodstein 1960-65)
– Delayed language Blackman (1957)
– Deaf (Carr 1953)
A new era in child language studies
• Morphology
– Berko (1958)
• Syntax
– Brown (1964)
– Braine (1963-66)Word order (Pivot Grammar)
– Bellugi (1967) Negation
• Phonology
– Menn
– Stoel-Gammon
• Sociolinguistics
– Bernstein (1962-65) Social Class & Language Development
– Cazden (1962-65)
High Amplitude Sucking Paradigm
• Infant placed in a reclining seat and given a
binky with a hole in it to suck on
• The binky has a pressure transducer in it which
measures sucking rate and allows infant to
control rate of sound input
• Baseline sucking rate is established with a
speech syllable
• Infant is presented with new syllable
• Increase in rate is interpreted as detection of
new sound
• Works best with 1-4-month-olds
Conditioned Head Turn
• Child hears one sound several times
• He/she then hears a new sound followed by a
switch back to the former sound
• If the child turns his/her head when the new
sound is presented he/she is rewarded with a
picture of lit-up toy
• If the child learns to turn his/her head at the
presentation of the stimulus, but not otherwise, it
is interpreted as discrimination
• Works best with 6-to-10-month-olds
• 1 month--/ba/ vs /pa/
/a/ vs /i/
/a/ vs /u/
• 2 months--/ba/ vs /ga/
/ba/ vs /da/
/ba/ vs /wa/
/ra/ vs /la/
/wa/ vs /ja/
rising vs falling pitch
Phonemic Perception
• Child sits in front of the experimenter
• Experimenter presents a wooden “doll” and
says, “This is /tas/.” “Put /tas/ on the wagon.”
• Experimenter presents a second “doll” of
different shape, color, etc. and says, “This is
/das/.” “Put /das/ in the box.” etc.
• Experimenter sets the dolls side by side in
random order and says, “This is /tas/ and this is
/das/. Put (randomly) /das/ in the box.”
• Correct choice of dolls is interpreted as
perception of phonemic differences.
There is an order to the minimal pairs
contrasts with which children can play the
Principles of Lexical Development
• Words refer to objects
• Words refer to whole objects
• New words can be extended to other
members of the category
• Each object can have only one name
• New words refer to things that do not
already have a name
• No two words have exactly the same
Preferential Looking Paradigm
• Child sits on mother’s lap equadistant from two
video monitors.
• Mother closes eyes
• Child watches two simultaneously presented
colored videos
• An audio message from a hidden speaker
between video monitors directs child to attend to
one of the monitors
• Researcher observes eye movements of child
and records time spent focused on each monitor
Results & Conclusions
• By 17 months children can use word order
to distinguish between sentences such as:
– Big Bird was tickling Cookie Monster
– Cookie Monster was tickling Big Bird
• Comprehension of syntax is well in
advance of production since most children
are not producing two word utterances by
this age.
The Wug Test
Results & Conclusions
• Between three and four years of age
children are able to apply learned
grammatical morphemes to words that
they have never heard before.
• Learners develop a productive use of
morphological generalizations
Puppets and Meta-language
• Two experimenters with hand puppets and
a child with a hand puppet
• The experimenters demonstrate the
correction of grammatical error
– E1 says, “Horse the ride”
– E2 says, “No that is not right you say, ride the
– E1 then gives examples to the child and has
the child say whether the sentence is good
and if not how to correct it
• Up until about 3 years of age children are
unable to tell when the grammar is wrong
except when it makes the utterance
• A year later children can correct ill formed
• Children gradually develop the ability to
attend to the form of language as an
object of attention in and of itself
Realia and Word Order
• The experimenter sits with the child and has toy
objects to manipulate.
• The experimenter says to the child, “Here is a
car and here is a truck. I am going to say
something and I want you to act it out.”
– “The car was hit by the truck.”
• The experimenter blindfolds a doll and asks, “Is
the doll easy to see, or hard to see?”
Results & Conclusions
• Chidren as old as 4 ½ to 5 will interpret the
first noun phrase in a sentence as the
agent and the second one as the object in
passives and will ignore the passive
markers of “was…by”
• Correct interpretation of unusual word
order develops slowly in often not
complete until middle childhood
Anaphora & GB Theory
Principles of GB
A. A reflexive is always bound to a referent that is
within the same clause
 John said that Robert hurt himself
B. An anaphoric pronoun cannot be bound to a
referent within the same clause
 John said that robert hurt him
C. Backward co-reference is only allowed if the
pronoun is in a clause subordinate to the main
 When he came home John made dinner.
 He made dinner when John came home
• By 6 years of age children know A, but are
still making errors on pronouns
• Children have difficulties with B even after
age 6
• Children do not seem to control C until
middle school years