This study builds upon previous research by Sudha Arunachalam, Ph.D., director of the BU Child Language Lab and assistant professor in the Department of Speech, Language and Hearing Sciences at Sargent College, demonstrating that by age two, toddlers can extract information about a new verb from its syntactic context, even before viewing a relevant event.
These new findings show that children can do so even in an impoverished social context, without discourse context or visual access to the speakers.
Arunachalam said that the only information provided was linguistic and that their goal was to determine whether 2-year-olds, on hearing new verbs in informative sentences, could use their syntactic content alone to map the novel verbs to meaning, even though no social or visual information was available.
Arunachalam and her team presented sentences as ambient noise - meaning toddlers did not have to directly attend to anyone.
Researchers then tested whether the toddlers had learned the word meanings by tracking the children's eye gaze as they looked at potential referents for the verbs.
Findings indicate that toddlers can learn at least some aspects of word meaning from contexts in which they are not directly attending to the conversation around them, without observational or social information for cues.