Going Beyond Input Quantity: Wh‐Questions Matter for Toddlers' Language and Cognitive Development

Cognitive Science 41 (S1):162-179 (2017)

Abstract
There are clear associations between the overall quantity of input children are exposed to and their vocabulary acquisition. However, by uncovering specific features of the input that matter, we can better understand the mechanisms involved in vocabulary learning. We examine whether exposure to wh-questions, a challenging quality of the communicative input, is associated with toddlers' vocabulary and later verbal reasoning skills in a sample of low-income, African-American fathers and their 24-month-old children. Dyads were videotaped in free play sessions at home. Videotapes were transcribed and reliably coded for sheer quantity of fathers' input as well as the number of wh-questions fathers produce. Children's productive vocabulary was measured at 24 months using the McArthur Bates Communicative Development Inventory MCDI, and children's verbal reasoning skills were measured 1 year later using the Bayley Scales of Infant Development. Results indicate that the overall quantity of father talk did not relate to children's vocabulary or reasoning skills. However, fathers' use of wh-questions related to both vocabulary and reasoning outcomes. Children's responses to wh-questions were more frequent and more syntactically complex, measured using the mean length of utterance, than their responses to other questions. Thus, posing wh-questions to 2-year-olds is a challenging type of input, which elicits a verbal response from the child that likely helps build vocabulary and foster verbal reasoning abilities.
Keywords Vocabulary  Low‐income  Fathers  Input  Word learning  Verbal reasoning  Questions
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DOI 10.1111/cogs.12349
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Why We 'Re so Smart'.Dedre Gentner - 2003 - In Dedre Getner & Susan Goldin-Meadow (eds.), Language in Mind: Advances in the Study of Language and Thought. MIT Press. pp. 195--235.
Development as a Dynamic System.Linda B. Smith & Esther Thelen - 2003 - Trends in Cognitive Sciences 7 (8):343-348.

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