Language skills develop at 6, say researchers

Apr 28, 2008

Psychologists at the University of Liverpool have discovered that children as young as six are as adept at recognising possible verbs and their past tenses as adults.

In a study conducted by the University’s Child Language Study Centre, children aged between six and nine were given sentences containing made-up verbs such as ‘the duck likes to spling’ and were asked to judge the acceptability of possible past tense forms. The study focused on the process the children used to come to their conclusions rather than whether their answers were right or wrong.

They found that the children’s judgements followed a virtually identical pattern to those of linguistics students who took part in a similar study at the University of California, Los Angeles, in the US.

University of Liverpool psychologist, Ben Ambridge, said: “Previous studies have concentrated on getting children to produce past tense forms for made-up words. This study is unique in that the children were asked to judge the acceptability of different forms that we gave them.

“One of the main questions raised when looking at children’s ability to pick up their native language is whether abstract symbolic rules or the use of memory and comparison affect how a child attributes past tenses to words.

“The study was designed to investigate whether we coin novel past-tense forms like ‘emailed’ by applying the default rule of adding ‘ed’ to the present-tense form or by making an analogy with similar-sounding words stored in the memory, for example in the way we know to form ‘sailed’ from ‘sail’ by linking it to like-sounding words such as ‘tail’ or ‘fail’. The study found evidence for the latter, supporting the view that we solve problems by making analogies with similar events stored in our memory rather than by applying abstract mental rules.”

He added: Grammaticality judgements are generally used by adult linguists so it’s impressive that children have been able to make them. They can’t tell you how they do it, but even six-year-olds know when a made-up word just doesn’t sound right.”

Source: University of Liverpool

Explore further: What makes a good horror movie?

Related Stories

Tracing the toxic legacy of PBB contamination

May 20, 2015

In 1973, bags of a fire-retardant chemical called PBB, polybrominated biphenyl, were accidently mixed into livestock feed and sold to farmers throughout the state of Michigan.

Recommended for you

What makes a good horror movie?

Jul 03, 2015

Like them or hate them horror films are big business and a string of new horror films are hitting the big screen this year. But what creates the intensity of suspense? And was Alfred Hitchcock – the master ...

Decoding the statistical language of the brain

Jul 02, 2015

Let's make a bet. You will throw a dart 10 feet and – if you hit a two-inch circular target on the wall across the room – I will give you a dollar. Otherwise, you pay me a dollar.

User comments : 1

Adjust slider to filter visible comments by rank

Display comments: newest first

TomABC
not rated yet Apr 28, 2008
Inaccurate headline. Should be "Language skills develop BY 6, say researchers", a completely different conclusion. The headline implies that language skills are acquired, not innate. The research makes no such claim.

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.