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Behavioral and neural evidence indicates that young children who engage in more conversations with their parents have better later language skills such as vocabulary and academic language abilities. Previous studies find that the extent to which parents engage in conversational turn-taking with children varies considerably. How, then, can we promote extended conversations between parents and their children? Instead of asking parents to engage in longer turn-taking episodes, we provided parents with information on conversational content that we hypothesized would lead to increased episodes of longer, more sustained conversational turn-taking. Specifically, we found that boosting the frequency of parent-child talk about abstract, non-present concepts – decontextualized language – led to an increase in dyadic conversational turn-taking during home mealtimes several weeks later.
Average differences in children's language abilities by socioeconomic status (SES) emerge early in development and predict academic achievement. Previous research has focused on coarse-grained outcome measures such as vocabulary size, but less is known about the extent to which SES differences exist in children's strategies for comprehension and learning. We measured children's (N = 98) comprehension of passive sentences to investigate whether SES differences are more pronounced in overall knowledge of the construction or in more specific abilities to process sentences during real-time interpretation. SES differences in comprehension emerged when syntactic revision of passives was necessary, and disappeared when the need to revise was removed. Further, syntactic revision but not knowledge of the passive best explained the association between SES and a standardized measure of syntactic development. These results demonstrate that SES differences in syntactic development may result from how children recruit syntactic information within sentences.
Fathers’ child-directed speech across two contexts was examined. Father–child dyads from sixty-nine low-income families were videotaped interacting during book reading and toy play when children were 2;0. Fathers used more diverse vocabulary and asked more questions during book reading while their mean length of utterance was longer during toy play. Variation in these specific characteristics of fathers’ speech that differed across contexts was also positively associated with child vocabulary skill measured on the MacArthur-Bates Communicative Development Inventory. Results are discussed in terms of how different contexts elicit specific qualities of child-directed speech that may promote language use and development.
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