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Maternal speech and the child's development of syntax: a further look*

  • Erika Hoff-Ginsberg (a1)


The present study compared four categories of maternal utterances that were found in a previous study (Hoff-Ginsberg, 1986) to predict children's rates of syntax development to a category of maternal utterances that was unrelated to syntax development. The comparisons were designed to test the hypotheses that maternal utterances which benefit syntax development do so by providing syntactically rich data or by eliciting conversation from the child. Data-providing and conversation-eliciting characteristics of the selected categories of maternal utterances were assessed from the same transcripts of 22 mothers interacting with their 2½-year-old children that had provided the database for the earlier study of predictive relations. Each of the three positive predictor categories of maternal utterances differed from the unrelated category — in more frequently illustrating the affected aspect of syntax development, in eliciting more speech from the child, or both. Neither of these characteristics was true of the negative predictor category. The pattern of results suggested that maternal speech supports the child's development of syntax by engaging the child in linguistic interaction and also by providing illustrations of the structures the child acquires.


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Department of Psychology, University of Wisconsin-Parkside, Kenosha, Wisconsin 53141, USA


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This research was supported, in different phases, by NIMH grant MH30996 to Marilyn Shatz and by NSF dissertation grant BNS-8020335, NIMH grant MH39693, and NICHD grant HD20936-02 to the author. I am grateful to Patricia Johnson for help in data coding and analysis, to Joel Levin for statistical advice, and to Melissa Bowerman, Steven Pinker, Paul Yoder, and several anonymous reviewers for comments on earlier versions of this work. Preliminary reports of this research were presented to the Society for Research in Child Development at the 1985 and 1987 meetings.



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Maternal speech and the child's development of syntax: a further look*

  • Erika Hoff-Ginsberg (a1)


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