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Academic Paper

Title: The company that words keep: comparing the statistical structure of child- versus adult-directed language
Author: Thomas Hills
Institution: University of Warwick
Linguistic Field: Language Acquisition; Text/Corpus Linguistics
Abstract: Does child-directed language differ from adult-directed language in ways that might facilitate word learning? Associative structure (the probability that a word appears with its free associates), contextual diversity, word repetitions and frequency were compared longitudinally across six language corpora, with four corpora of language directed at children aged 1 ; 0 to 5 ; 0, and two adult-directed corpora representing spoken and written language. Statistics were adjusted relative to shuffled corpora. Child-directed language was found to be more associative, repetitive and consistent than adult-directed language. Moreover, these statistical properties of child-directed language better predicted word acquisition than the same statistics in adult-directed language. Word frequency and repetitions were the best predictors within word classes (nouns, verbs, adjectives and function words). For all word classes combined, associative structure, contextual diversity and word repetitions best predicted language acquisition. These results support the hypothesis that child-directed language is structured in ways that facilitate language acquisition.


This article appears IN Journal of Child Language Vol. 40, Issue 3, which you can READ on Cambridge's site or on LINGUIST .

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