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Caregiver speech and children's use of nouns versus verbs: A comparison of English, Italian, and Mandarin

  • TWILA TARDIF (a1), MARILYN SHATZ (a1) and LETITIA NAIGLES (a2)

Abstract

This paper examines naturalistic samples of adult-to-child speech to determine if variations in the input are consistent with reported variations in the proportions of nouns and verbs in children's early vocabularies. It contrasts two PRO-DROP languages, Italian and Mandarin, with English. Naturalistic speech samples from six 2;0 English-, six 1;11 Italian-, and ten 1;10 Mandarin-speaking children and their caregivers were examined. Adult-to-child speech was coded for the type frequency, token frequency, utterance position, and morphological variation of nouns and verbs as well as the types and placements of syntactic subjects and the pragmatic focus of adult questions. Children's spontaneous productions of nouns and verbs and their responses to adult questions were also examined. The results suggest a pattern consistent with the children's spontaneous production data. Namely, the speech of English-speaking caregivers emphasized nouns over verbs, whereas that of Mandarin-speaking caregivers emphasized verbs over nouns. The data from the Italian-speaking caregivers were more equivocal, though still noun-oriented, across these various input measures.

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Address for correspondence: Twila Tardif, Department of Psychology, Chinese University of Hong Kong, Shatin, New Territories, Hong Kong. e-mail: TTARDIF@PSY.CUHK.EDU.HK.

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The authors thank Alicia Ashbaugh, Trina Marmarelli, and John-Patrick Villanueva for their help in coding the data as well as Erika Hoff-Ginsberg for supplying the English transcripts. This research was supported in part by a Social Sciences Research Council of Canada Postdoctoral Fellowship awarded to the first author while she was a member of the Michigan Society of Fellows, a grant from the Undergraduate Research Opportunities Program at the University of Michigan to the second author, and a National Institute of Health FIRST Award (R09) #26595 awarded to the third author. The first author is now at the Department of Psychology, Chinese University of Hong Kong.

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Caregiver speech and children's use of nouns versus verbs: A comparison of English, Italian, and Mandarin

  • TWILA TARDIF (a1), MARILYN SHATZ (a1) and LETITIA NAIGLES (a2)

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