18-month-olds fail to use recent experience to infer the syntactic category of novel words

Naomi Havron, Mireille Babineau, Anne Christophe

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

Abstract

Infants are able to use the contexts in which familiar words appear to guide their inferences about the syntactic category of novel words (e.g. ‘This is a’ + ‘dax’ -> dax = object). The current study examined whether 18-month-old infants can rapidly adapt these expectations by tracking the distribution of syntactic structures in their input. In French, la petite can be followed by both nouns (la petite balle, ‘the little ball’) and verbs (la petite mange, ‘the little one is eating’). Infants were habituated to a novel word, as well as to familiar nouns or verbs (depending on the experimental group), all appearing after la petite. The familiar words served to create an expectation that la petite would be followed by either nouns or verbs. If infants can utilize their knowledge of a few frequent words to adjust their expectations, then they could use this information to infer the syntactic category of a novel word – and be surprised when the novel word is used in a context that is incongruent with their expectations. However, infants in both groups did not show a difference between noun and verb test trials. Thus, no evidence for adaptation-based learning was found. We propose that infants have to entertain strong expectations about syntactic contexts before they can adapt these expectations based on recent input.

Original languageEnglish
Article numbere13030
JournalDevelopmental Science
Volume24
Issue number2
DOIs
StatePublished - Mar 2021
Externally publishedYes

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
This research was supported by postdoctoral fellowships to Naomi Havron from the French Embassy in Israel and the Victor Smorgon Charitable Fund, and to Mireille Babineau from the Fyssen Foundation and from the H2020 European Research Council [Marie Sk?odowska-Curie grant no 799380). It was also supported by grants to Anne Christophe from the Fondation de France, and the French ANR (ANR-13-APPR-0012 LangLearn, ANR-17-CE28-0007-01 LangAge, ANR-17-EURE-0017 FrontCog, and ANR-10-IDEX-0001-02 PSL). The authors thank Anne-Caroline Fi?vet for her help in recruiting the children, and L?a Michel who assisted us in the stimuli preparation. We also thank all the parents who participated in this study.

Funding Information:
This research was supported by postdoctoral fellowships to Naomi Havron from the French Embassy in Israel and the Victor Smorgon Charitable Fund, and to Mireille Babineau from the Fyssen Foundation and from the H2020 European Research Council [Marie Skłodowska‐Curie grant no 799380). It was also supported by grants to Anne Christophe from the Fondation de France, and the French ANR (ANR‐13‐APPR‐0012 LangLearn, ANR‐17‐CE28‐0007‐01 LangAge, ANR‐17‐EURE‐0017 FrontCog, and ANR‐10‐IDEX‐0001‐02 PSL). The authors thank Anne‐Caroline Fiévet for her help in recruiting the children, and Léa Michel who assisted us in the stimuli preparation. We also thank all the parents who participated in this study.

Publisher Copyright:
© 2020 John Wiley & Sons Ltd

Keywords

  • infants speech processing
  • language acquisition
  • prediction
  • syntactic adaptation
  • syntactic bootstrapping
  • word categorization

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Developmental and Educational Psychology
  • Cognitive Neuroscience

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