Examining a developmental pathway of early word learning: From Qualitative Characteristics of Parent Speech, to Sustained Attention, to Vocabulary Size

AbstractThe quality of parent speech has been argued to impact child language growth above and beyond quantity. One potential mechanism tying online experience to long-term vocabulary development is sustained attention to targets of parent speech. We recruited thirty-five parent-toddler dyads to participate in free toy play while wearing head-mounted eye trackers. Parent speech was categorized based on its referential nature, syntax, and communicative intent. Parent referential speech positively related to both vocabulary size and online patterns of sustained attention. Speech categorized based on communicative intent also showed relations with vocabulary size and sustained attention, but specific types of speech impacting each differed. These results support the hypotheses that qualitative characteristics of parent speech relate to both long-term language growth and online sustained attention and provide tentative evidence for the broader hypothesis that sustained attention is the mechanism tying online experience to long-term language growth.

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