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Jacqueline Woolley, Chair The University of Texas at Austin, SEA 4.212, Austin, TX 78712 • (512) 475-7596

The development of reference in early childhood: the roles of communicative motivation, cognitive abilities and the caregiving environment

Mon, April 21, 2014 • 3:00 PM - 4:30 PM • CLA 1.302D

The UT Department of Linguistics Presents a Colloquium

Danielle Matthews (University of Sheffield) 

Over the first 5 years of life children become remarkably effective communicators. By the end of the first year of life, infants have learned to use gesture and vocalisation in order to direct the attention of those around them. They then quickly begin to use conventional symbols (words, whole utterances) to achieve the same task. Over the preschool years, they carve out a functional space for each of these units in their language such that, for example, they know when an adjective or prepositional phrase might be valuable. Finally, around 5 years of age, children start to demonstrate meta-linguistic insight into the fact that linguistic conventions are normative agreements between speakers. I will report on naturalistic and experimental studies (including a recent randomised control trial) that explore the processes that drive these early developments and the predictors of individual differences in their emergence. Using examples from preverbal communication (pointing, babbling), word learning and referential communication, I will demonstrate how learning is propelled by 1) children’s growing social and cognitive abilities, 2) the scaffolding provided by caregivers and 3), children’s motivation to engage in and repair communicative exchanges. The emerging picture is one where children actively seek to enrich their model of language, fine tuning their expectations as their experience accrues.

Speaker homepage: http://www.shef.ac.uk/psychology/staff/academic/danielle-matthews 


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