Baby’s first words after ‘Mama’ are ‘This’ and ‘That’

Amalia Skilton, a linguistics scholar and Klarman fellow at University College, says: Arts and Sciences (A&S).

Skilton observed similar patterns among 45 Ticuna speakers in Peru, suggesting that children’s strong motivation to share attention has a similar impact on language learning – particularly on language learning. for first words – even in languages ​​that are structurally different and spoken in very different social settings.

“Children learn expressions that call other people’s attention to objects – such as ‘this/that’ and ‘here/there’ – at a very young age, when they know very little another word,” Skilton said. “”This” and “here” appear as soon as the first words are stereotypical like “mama”.”

Skilton writes in his book “Learning Speaker- and Addressee-Centered Demonstratives in Ticuna,” published in Children’s Language Magazine. They are one of the main tools for directing what linguists call collective attention, allowing us to label objects by name, coordinate our actions, and cooperate.

“Attention-sharing is the infrastructure for the rest of language and social interaction,” Skilton said.

English has only two main banners (“this” and “that”) but some languages ​​have dozens. Ticuna, spoken by about 69,000 indigenous people living along the Amazon/Solimões Rivers in Peru, Colombia and Brazil, has six representations, four of which have been studied for their more common usage.

For more than a year in Cushillococha, Peru, a community of about 5,000 people who rely on subsistence farming, Skilton has documented 1- to 4-year-olds playing and interacting with caregivers in their homes. . She analyzed Ticuna’s language development collected over nearly 15 hours of video samples.

Despite their small vocabulary, 12 of the 14 one-year-olds observed in the study said “this/that” or “here/that”, demonstrating a shared motivation to share attention. Skilton said the study confirms that caregivers can expect babies to start using those words around 12 to 18 months of age “regardless of what language the child speaks.”

But the type of demonstration used suggests that while young children are eager to share their attention, they have difficulty understanding the other’s point of view. The Ticuna children learned “selfish” demonstrations – the equivalent of “this / here near me” – about two years earlier than “interactive” demonstrations such as “that / there”. near you,” Skilton noticed. And they use those selfish words more often than adults, accounting for 15% of all words spoken.

It is well known that it is difficult for children to understand what others believe or know. Skilton said her research adds that young children also have difficulty understanding how other people see objects in space. She believes it is a function of cognitive development, not of learning any particular language.

As a result, Skilton said, parents and other caregivers shouldn’t necessarily be concerned if a child under the age of 3 uses the incorrect interaction words.

“While adults think of these words as simple,” says Skilton, “their meanings are quite confusing to young children, and having difficulty with them is a typical part of a child’s development. .”

Skilton plans to return to Peru for further research including the first comprehensive study of the development of general attention in a non-Western setting, shifting her focus to children’s use of gestures. pointing to direct the attention of adults. She is collaborating on a three-year Klarman Fellowship with host Sarah Murray, an associate professor in the Department of Linguistics (A&S).

Skilton’s research was supported by the National Science Foundation (NSF) Graduate Research Fellowships, the NSF Endangered Languages ​​PhD Research Grant, and the Social Science Postdoctoral Research Fellowships. NSF Society, Behavior and Economics.

Source: Eurekalert

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