Starting Big: The Effect of Unit Size on Language Learning in Children and Adults

Naomi Havron, Inbal Arnon

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

Abstract

Multiword units play an important role in language learning and use. It was proposed that learning from such units can facilitate mastery of certain grammatical relations, and that children and adults differ in their use of multiword units during learning, contributing to their varying language-learning trajectories. Accordingly, adults learn gender agreement better when encouraged to learn from multiword units. Previous work has not examined two core predictions of this proposal: (1) that children also benefit from initial exposure to multiword units, and (2) that their learning patterns reflect a greater reliance on multiword units compared to adults. We test both predictions using an artificial-language. As predicted, both children and adults benefit from early exposure to multiword units. In addition, when exposed to unsegmented input - adults show better learning of nouns compared to article-noun pairings, but children do not, a pattern consistent with adults' predicted tendency to focus less on multiword units.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)244-260
Number of pages17
JournalJournal of Child Language
Volume48
Issue number2
DOIs
StatePublished - Mar 2021
Externally publishedYes

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
Acknowledgements. This work was supported by ISF Grant 52712 (to IA). We want to thank the research assistants at the Living Lab in the Bloomfield Science museum, the museum staff, Limor Raviv the Living Lab manager at the time of data collection, and the children and parents who participated in the study.

Publisher Copyright:
Copyright © The Author(s), 2020. Published by Cambridge University Press.

Keywords

  • Artificial language learning
  • Child and adult learning
  • Grammatical gender

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Language and Linguistics
  • Experimental and Cognitive Psychology
  • Developmental and Educational Psychology
  • Linguistics and Language
  • Psychology (all)

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