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Reciprocal influences between maternal language and children's language and cognitive development in low-income families*

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  30 January 2013

Brooklyn College of the City University of New York, USA
American Institutes for Research, California, USA
New York University, USA
Address for correspondence: Catherine S. Tamis-LeMonda, 246 Greene Street, Floor 5E, New York, NY 10003. e-mail:


We examined reciprocal associations between early maternal language use and children's language and cognitive development in seventy ethnically diverse, low-income families. Mother–child dyads were videotaped when children were aged 2;0 and 3;0. Video transcripts were analyzed for quantity and lexical diversity of maternal and child language. Child cognitive development was assessed at both ages and child receptive vocabulary was assessed at age 3;0. Maternal language related to children's lexical diversity at each age, and maternal language at age 2;0, was associated with children's receptive vocabulary and cognitive development at age 3;0. Furthermore, children's cognitive development at age 2;0 was associated with maternal language at age 3;0 controlling for maternal language at age 2;0, suggesting bi-directionality in mother–child associations. The quantity and diversity of the language children hear at home has developmental implications for children from low-income households. In addition, children's early cognitive skills further feed into their subsequent language experiences.

Copyright © Cambridge University Press 2013 

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We wish to acknowledge our colleagues in the Early Head Start (EHS) Research Consortium, including the Administration on Children, Youth and Families (ACF) and evaluation contractor (Mathematica Policy Research). We acknowledge funding by National Science Foundation Behavioral and Cognitive Sciences Grant 021859 and National Science Foundation Integrative Research Activities for Developmental Science Grant 0721383, as well as funding from New York University's Provost Office to support Lulu Song's postdoctoral fellowship at the Center for Research on Culture, Development, and Education. Lulu Song is currently at Brooklyn College, City University of New York.


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