Foundational Tuning: How Infants' Attention to Speech Predicts Language Development

Cognitive Science 38 (8):1675-1686 (2014)
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Orienting biases for speech may provide a foundation for language development. Although human infants show a bias for listening to speech from birth, the relation of a speech bias to later language development has not been established. Here, we examine whether infants' attention to speech directly predicts expressive vocabulary. Infants listened to speech or non-speech in a preferential listening procedure. Results show that infants' attention to speech at 12 months significantly predicted expressive vocabulary at 18 months, while indices of general development did not. No predictive relationships were found for infants' attention to non-speech, or overall attention to sounds, suggesting that the relationship between speech and expressive vocabulary was not a function of infants' general attentiveness. Potentially ancient evolutionary perceptual capacities such as biases for conspecific vocalizations may provide a foundation for proficiency in formal systems such language, much like the approximate number sense may provide a foundation for formal mathematics



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