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In JoVE (1)

Other Publications (16)

Articles by Letitia R. Naigles in JoVE

 JoVE Clinical and Translational Medicine

Portable Intermodal Preferential Looking (IPL): Investigating Language Comprehension in Typically Developing Toddlers and Young Children with Autism

1Department of Psychology, University of Connecticut


JoVE 4331

A reliable home-based way to assess the language comprehension of very young typically developing children, as well as those with autism, is described. The method analyzes children's eye gaze while viewing side-by-side images but hearing an audio that matches only one image. Stimuli are designed with young participants in mind.

Other articles by Letitia R. Naigles on PubMed

Language-general and Language-specific Influences on Children's Acquisition of Argument Structure: a Comparison of French and English

This research investigates language-general and language-specific properties of the acquisition of argument structure. Ten French preschoolers enacted forty sentences containing motion verbs; sixteen sentences were ungrammatical in that the syntactic frame was incompatible with the standard argument structure for the verb (e.g. *Le tigre va le lion = *The tiger goes the lion). Previous work (Naigles, Fowler & Helm, 1992, 1995; Naigles, Gleitman & Gleitman, 1993) indicated that English-speaking two-year-olds faced with such ungrammatical sentences consistently altered the usual meaning of the verb to fit the syntactic frame (frame compliance) whereas adults faced with the same sentences altered the syntax to fit the meaning of the verb (verb compliance). The age at which children began to perform Verb Compliantly varied by frame and by verb. The current study finds that the level of Verb Compliance in French five-year-olds largely mirrors that of English-speaking five-year-olds. The sole exception is the intransitive frame with an added prepositional phrase (e.g. *Le tigre amène près de la passerelle = *The tiger brings next to the ramp), which elicits a higher level of Verb Compliance among French kindergarteners than among their English learning peers. This effect may be due to the unambiguous interpretation of French spatial prepositions (i.e. next to has both locative and directional interpretations whereas près de supports only the locative interpretation). These data support the conclusion that the acquisition of argument structure is influenced by both language-general mechanisms (e.g. uniqueness, entrenchment) and language-specific properties (e.g. prepositional ambiguity).

Form is Easy, Meaning is Hard: Resolving a Paradox in Early Child Language

A developmental paradox is discussed: studies of infant processing of language and language-like stimuli indicate considerable ability to abstract patterns over specific items and to distinguish natural from unnatural English sentences. In contrast, studies of toddler language production find little ability to generalize patterns over specific English words or constructions. Thus, infants appear to be abstract auditory or language processors whereas toddlers appear to be non-abstract, item-specific language users. Three resolutions are offered to this paradox. The first, that no resolution is necessary because only the toddler findings come from language use in a communicative context and so only the toddler findings are relevant to linguistic knowledge, is rejected. The second, that the contradictions are rooted in the differing methodologies of the two sets of studies (comprehension vs. production), is found to explain important aspects of the contradictory findings. The third, that the contractions come from the differing content of the stimuli in the studies, is also found to be explanatory and is argued to carry greater weight. Resolution 3 suggests that the patterns that infants extract from their linguistic input are not yet tied to meaning; thus, toddlers do not lose these earlier-abstracted forms but their use of them is limited until they have been integrated with meaning. It is argued that in language acquisition, learning form is easy but learning meaning, and especially linking meanings and forms, is hard.

Comprehension Matters: a Commentary on 'A Multiple Process Solution to the Logical Problem of Language Acquisition'

The Input to Verb Learning in Mandarin Chinese: a Role for Syntactic Bootstrapping

The authors investigated the role of syntax in verb learning in Mandarin Chinese, which allows pervasive ellipsis of noun arguments. Two questions were investigated using the Beijing corpus on CHILDES: (a) Does the input to young children manifest syntactic-semantic correspondences as needed for acquiring verb meanings? (b) Are verbs presented in multiple frames? Over 6,000 child-directed utterances were parsed. Analyses revealed that transitive verbs, motion verbs, and internal/communication verbs were distinguished syntactically; moreover, the 60 target verbs were used in multiple sentence frames. These findings support a role for syntactic bootstrapping in Mandarin verb learning.

Toddlers Recognize Verbs in Novel Situations and Sentences

Toddlers' (MA=22 and 27 months) ability to extend newly taught verbs to new situational and sentential contexts was investigated. Children were interactively taught two novel verbs, presented in only the transitive frame (e.g. You're lorping the ball), in a playroom setting. They then viewed the verb actions presented on side-by-side monitors and were asked to distinguish the verbs in three test frames (transitive, intransitive, neutral (e.g. lorping)). Both groups demonstrated learning of the verbs in the new situation and generalized the verbs to the intransitive sentence frame, but neither generalized reliably to the neutral frame. We conclude that even 22-month-olds demonstrate considerable context independence in their verb representations.

Residual Language Deficits in Optimal Outcome Children with a History of Autism

This study examined whether language deficits persist even in children with optimal outcomes. We examined a group of children with prior diagnoses on the autism spectrum who had IQs in the normal range, were in age-appropriate mainstream classes, and had improved to such an extent that they were considered to be functioning at the level of their typically developing peers. Fourteen such children between the ages of five and nine were matched on age and sex with typically developing children, and were given a battery of 10 language tests to investigate their language abilities. Results indicated that while these children's grammatical capabilities are mostly indistinguishable from their peers, they are still experiencing difficulties in pragmatic and semantic language.

Processes of Language Acquisition in Children with Autism: Evidence from Preferential Looking

Two language acquisition processes (comprehension preceding production of word order, the noun bias) were examined in 2- and 3-year-old children (n=10) with autistic spectrum disorder and in typically developing 21-month-olds (n=13). Intermodal preferential looking was used to assess comprehension of subject-verb-object word order and the tendency to map novel words onto objects rather than actions. Spontaneous speech samples were also collected. Results demonstrated significant comprehension of word order in both groups well before production. Moreover, children in both groups consistently showed the noun bias. Comprehension preceding production and the noun bias appear to be robust processes of language acquisition, observable in both typical and language-impaired populations.

Mandarin Learners Use Syntactic Bootstrapping in Verb Acquisition

Mandarin Chinese allows pervasive ellipsis of noun arguments (NPs) in discourse, which casts doubt concerning child learners' use of syntax in verb learning. This study investigated whether Mandarin learning children would nonetheless extend verb meanings based on the number of NPs in sentences. Forty-one Mandarin-speaking two- and three-year-olds enacted sentences with familiar motion verbs. The presence of an extra postverbal NP led the toddlers to extend causative meanings to intransitive verbs, and the absence of a postverbal NP led them to extend noncausative meanings to transitive verbs. The effects of adding or subtracting an NP were statistically indistinguishable. Thus, the number of NPs in a sentence appears to play a role in verb learning in Mandarin Chinese.

Turkish Children Use Morphosyntactic Bootstrapping in Interpreting Verb Meaning

How might syntactic bootstrapping apply in Turkish, which employs inflectional morphology to indicate grammatical relations and allows argument ellipsis? We investigated whether Turkish speakers interpret constructions differently depending on the number of NPs in the sentence, the presence of accusative case marking and the causative morpheme. Data were collected from 60 child speakers and 16 adults. In an adaptation of Naigles, Gleitman & Gleitman (1993), the participants acted out sentences (6 transitive and 6 intransitive verbs in four different frames). The enactments were coded for causativity. Causative enactments increased in two-argument frames and decreased in one-argument frames, albeit to a lesser extent than previously found in English. This effect was generally stronger in children than in adults. Causative enactments increased when the accusative case marker was present. The causative morpheme yielded no increase in causative enactments. These findings highlight roles for morphological and syntactic cues in verb learning by Turkish children.

Do Children with Autism Spectrum Disorders Show a Shape Bias in Word Learning?

Many children with autism spectrum disorders (ASD) acquire a sizeable lexicon. However, these children also seem to understand and/or store the meanings of words differently from typically developing children. One of the mechanisms that helps typically developing children learn novel words is the shape bias, in which the referent of a noun is mapped onto the shape of an object, rather than onto its color, texture, or size. We hypothesized that children with autistic disorder would show reduced or absent shape bias. Using the intermodal preferential looking paradigm , we compared the performance of young children with ASD and typically developing children (TYP), across four time points, in their use of shape bias. Neither group showed a shape bias at Visit 1, when half of the children in both groups produced fewer than 50 count nouns. Only the TYP group showed a shape bias at Visits 2, 3, and 4. According to the growth curve analyses, the rate of increase in the shape bias scores over time was significant for the TYP children. The fact that the TYP group showed a shape bias at 24 months of age, whereas children with ASD did not demonstrate a shape bias despite a sizeable vocabulary, supports a dissociation between vocabulary size and principles governing acquisition in ASD children from early in language development.

Flexibility in Early Verb Use: Evidence from a Multiple-N Diary Study

Flexibility and productivity are hallmarks of human language use. Competent speakers have the capacity to use the words they know to serve a variety of communicative functions, to refer to new and varied exemplars of the categories to which words refer, and in new and varied combinations with other words. When and how children achieve this flexibility and when they are truly productive language users--are central issues among accounts of language acquisition. The current study tests competing hypotheses of the achievement of flexibility and some kinds of productivity against data on children's first uses of their first-acquired verbs. Eight mothers recorded their children's first 10 uses of 34 early acquired verbs, if those verbs were produced within the window of the study. The children were between 16 and 20 months when the study began (depending on when the children started to produce verbs), were followed for between 3 and 12 months, and produced between 13 and 31 of the target verbs. These diary records provided the basis for a description of the pragmatic, semantic, and syntactic properties of early verb use. The data revealed that within this early, initial period of verb use, children use their verbs both to command and describe, they use their verbs in reference to a variety of appropriate actions enacted by variety of actors and with a variety of affected objects, and they use their verbs in a variety of syntactic structures. All 8 children displayed semantic and grammatical flexibility before 24 months of age. These findings are more consistent with a model of the language-learning child as an avid generalizer than as a conservative language user. Children's early verb use suggests abilities and inclinations to abstract from experience that may indeed begin in infancy.

Verb Argument Structure Acquisition in Young Children: Defining a Role for Discourse

ABSTRACTTwo-, three- and four-year-old English learners enacted sentences that were missing a direct object (e.g. *The zebra brings.). Previous work has indicated that preschoolers faced with such ungrammatical sentences consistently alter the usual meaning of the verb to fit the syntactic frame (enacting 'zebra comes'); older children are more likely to repair the syntax to fit the meaning of the verb (enacting 'zebra brings something'; Naigles, Gleitman & Gleitman, 1993). We investigated whether young children performed more repairs if an informative context preceded the ungrammatical sentences. Test sentences were preceded by short vignettes that created a relationship between three characters. Children repaired more sentences than had been found previously; however, older preschoolers also repaired significantly more frequently than younger preschoolers. Discourse context thus seems relevant to the acquisition of verb argument structure, but is not the sole source of information.

Abstractness and Continuity in the Syntactic Development of Young Children with Autism

Grammar is frequently considered to be a strength in the cognitive profile of individuals with autism spectrum disorders (ASDs); however, few studies have investigated how abstract (i.e. distinct from specific lexical items) is the grammatical knowledge of individuals with ASD. In this study, we examine the extent to which children with ASD have abstracted the transitive (SVO) frame in English. Participants in a longitudinal study of language acquisition in children with autism (17 children with ASD averaging 41 months of age, 18 TD children averaging 28 months of age) were taught two novel verbs in transitive sentences and asked (via intermodal preferential looking) whether these verbs mapped onto novel causative vs. noncausative actions. Both groups consistently mapped the verbs onto the causative actions (i.e. they engaged in syntactic bootstrapping). Moreover, the children with ASD's performance on this task was significantly and independently predicted by both vocabulary and sentence-processing measures obtained 8 months earlier. We conclude that many children with ASD are able to generalize grammatical patterns, and this ability may derive from earlier lexical and grammatical knowledge.

The Shape Bias is Affected by Differing Similarity Among Objects

Previous research has demonstrated that visual properties of objects can affect shape-based categorization in a novel-name extension task; however, we still do not know how a relationship between visual properties of objects affects judgments in a novel-name extension task. We examined effects of increased visual similarity among the target and test objects in a shape bias task in young children and adults. Experiment 1 assessed college students with sets of objects whose similarity between target and test objects was either low or high similarity. Adults preferred shape when the similarity among objects was minimized. Experiment 2 tested 24- month-olds in their use of the shape bias using the Intermodal Preferential Looking Paradigm. Children showed a shape bias only with items whose similarity to each other was low. These findings suggest that the visual properties of objects affect shape bias performance.

Comprehension of Wh-questions Precedes Their Production in Typical Development and Autism Spectrum Disorders

Children with autism spectrum disorders (ASD) rarely produce wh-questions (e.g. "What hit the book?") in naturalistic speech. It is unclear if this is due to social-pragmatic difficulties, or if grammatical deficits are also involved. If grammar is impaired, production of wh-questions by rote memorization might precede comprehension of similar forms. In a longitudinal study, 15 children with ASD and 18 initially language-matched typically developing (TD) toddlers were visited in their homes at 4-month intervals across a 3-year period. The wh-question task was presented via intermodal preferential looking. Silent "hitting" events (e.g. an apple hitting a flower) were followed by test trials in which the apple and flower were juxtaposed on the screen. During test trials, subject-wh- and object-wh-question audios were sequentially presented (e.g. "What hit the flower?" or "What did the apple hit?"). Control audios were also presented (e.g. "Where's the apple/flower?"). Children's eye movements were coded off-line, frame by frame. To show reliable comprehension, children should look longer to the named item (i.e. apple or flower) during the "where" questions but less at the named item during the subject-wh and object-wh-questions. To compare comprehension to production, we coded 30-min spontaneous speech samples drawn from mother-child interactions at each visit. Results indicated that comprehension of subject- and object-wh-questions was delayed in children with ASD compared with age-matched TD children, but not when matched on overall language levels. Additionally, both groups comprehended wh-questions before producing similar forms, indicating that development occurred in a similar manner. This paper discusses the implications of our findings for language acquisition in ASD.

Introduction: Special Issue on Atypical Development

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