According to a study published in the February 13th issue of Science Magazine, researchers found that the babies of parents with higher education levels and income had both higher use of gesture and higher vocabulary. While its not clear if the chicken or egg comes first in this case, the established link between these three things (socioeconomic status, vocabulary, gesture use) is an important step toward future research. The story, linked here from US News and World Reports suggests that the next step may be trying to determine if increasing gestures in babies may lead to later vocabulary growth. One element that may also contribute to this link is motivation – a child who is more motivated to communicate in general may be likely to use whatever means necessary, whether gesture or language. Gesture is also often an important foundation for oral language, as children not motivated to speak frequently need the motivation to communicate that pointing and other gestures can provide.
Over the next few days I will be describing some of what I feel are the language acquisition studies marked by their significance to both our current knowledge of language acquisition as well as historical impact upon subsequent research in the field. Without any adieu, and with no particular order, here they are.
Jean Berko Gleason’s “Wugs” – 1958
Berko Gleason and colleagues presented pictures of imaginary creatures to children. The pictures were given labels such as “wug,” made up by the researchers. The children were then presented with varieties of the make believe creatures to test their ability to apply linguistic rules. The famous example is “This is a wug.” (1 wug) “What are these?” (More than one.) Very young children had difficulty, but children by age 4 or 5 could usually label the plural “wugs,” and most importantly – could do it without ever having heard the word used before. These sorts of pictures were also used to test other aspects of syntax acquisition, such as possessives and verbs. The nativists have long used this as evidence that language is not memorized. A shortened explanation of what I think is going on can be found here.