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Parents’ talk about conceptual categories with infants: stability, variability, and implications for expressive language development

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  27 June 2022

Ran WEI*
Division of Developmental Medicine, Boston Children’s Hospital, Harvard Medical School, Brookline, MA, USA
Harvard Graduate School of Education, Cambridge, MA, USA
Letitia R. NAIGLES
University of Connecticut, Storrs, CT, USA
Meredith L. ROWE
Harvard Graduate School of Education, Cambridge, MA, USA
*Corresponding author. Ran Wei, Laboratories of Cognitive Neuroscience, 2 Brookline Place, Brookline, MA 02445, United States. E-mail:


Children’s exposure to talk about conceptual categories plays a powerful role in shaping their conceptual development. However, it remains unclear when parents begin to talk about categories with young children and whether such talk relates to children’s language skills. This study examines relations between parents’ talk about conceptual categories and infants’ expressive language development. Forty-seven parent-infant dyads were videotaped playing together at child age 10, 12, 14, and 16 months. Transcripts of interactions were analyzed to identify parents’ talk about conceptual categories. Children’s expressive language development was assessed at 18 months. Findings indicate that parents indeed talked about conceptual categories with infants and that talk was stable across time, with college-educated parents producing more than non-college-educated parents. Further, parents’ talk about conceptual categories between 10 and 16 months predicted children’s 18-month expressive language. This study sheds new light on mechanisms through which early experiences may support children’s language development.

© The Author(s), 2022. Published by Cambridge University Press

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