Dog or Dogs? When do children learn the difference?

Jul 04, 2013

Researchers at Macquarie University's Child Language Laboratory (in the Australian Hearing Hub) are one step closer to identifying a question that has long perplexed linguists and parents alike: when do children understand  that adding an –s to the end of a noun means 'more than one' (i.e., plural)?

Most languages provide just two options when talking about quantity: singular or plural.  Though some languages have more distinctions.

"For English, the actual number of things you are talking about doesn't really matter" explains Honours student Ben Davies. "There's either one, or more than one. Using plurals in speech is the first indication that children understand that meaning can be adapted by the minor modification of a word."

An awareness of these modifications indicates that a child is becoming more conscious of the connections between sound and meaning. By identifying the age at which children start to use plurals in their speech, we can better understand when they start to understand about the larger world.

"Kids know more about than we think, earlier than we think," says Davies. "We know that most understand plurals by 24 months, but we know that many don't understand them at 18 months. So we're looking at children between 23 and 25 months to see when this development takes place."

Although children's speech provides an indication of this development, even quiet children may understand  plurals at this age. By asking children to "look at the cat" vs. "cats," and tracking their on the computer screen, Davies and colleagues are able to discern whether a child understands the difference, without them having to say a word.

"Parents often worry that their child isn't saying much and it's a sign that something is wrong," says Davies. "Even if your child is not talking much, they're probably listening."

Explore further: Physicists create tool to foresee language destruction impact and thus prevent it

add to favorites email to friend print save as pdf

Related Stories

From the mouths of babes: The truth about toddler talk

Jun 17, 2013

(Medical Xpress)—The sound of small children chattering has always been considered cute – but not particularly sophisticated. However, research by a Newcastle University expert has shown their speech ...

'Motherese' important for children's language development

May 06, 2011

(Medical Xpress) -- Talking to children has always been fundamental to language development, but new research reveals that the way we talk to children is key to building their ability to understand and create ...

Study shows humans and apes learn language differently

Apr 02, 2013

(Medical Xpress)—How do children learn language? Many linguists believe that the stages that a child goes through when learning language mirror the stages of language development in primate evolution. ...

New approach urged for late-talking bilingual babies

Feb 19, 2012

Babies who are raised in homes where two or more languages are spoken may appear to talk later than those learning just one language, leaving parents puzzled and concerned as to the reasons why.

Recommended for you

Affirmative action elicits bias in pro-equality Caucasians

Jul 25, 2014

New research from Simon Fraser University's Beedie School of Business indicates that bias towards the effects of affirmative action exists in not only people opposed to it, but also in those who strongly endorse equality.

Election surprises tend to erode trust in government

Jul 24, 2014

When asked who is going to win an election, people tend to predict their own candidate will come out on top. When that doesn't happen, according to a new study from the University of Georgia, these "surprised losers" often ...

Awarded a Pell Grant? Better double-check

Jul 23, 2014

(AP)—Potentially tens of thousands of students awarded a Pell Grant or other need-based federal aid for the coming school year could find it taken away because of a mistake in filling out the form.

User comments : 0