Do 6-month-olds understand that speech can communicate?

Athena Vouloumanos, Alia Martin, Kristine H. Onishi

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

Abstract

Adults and 12-month-old infants recognize that even unfamiliar speech can communicate information between third parties, suggesting that they can separate the communicative function of speech from its lexical content. But do infants recognize that speech can communicate due to their experience understanding and producing language, or do they appreciate that speech is communicative earlier, with little such experience? We examined whether 6-month-olds recognize that speech can communicate information about an object. Infants watched a Communicator selectively grasp one of two objects (target). During test, the Communicator could no longer reach the objects; she turned to a Recipient and produced speech (a nonsense word) or non-speech (coughing). Infants looked longer when the Recipient selected the non-target than the target object when the Communicator spoke but not when she coughed - unless the Recipient had previously witnessed the Communicator's selective grasping of the target object. Our results suggest that at 6 months, with a receptive vocabulary of no more than a handful of commonly used words, infants possess some abstract understanding of the communicative function of speech. This understanding may provide an early mechanism for language and knowledge acquisition. Do infants recognize that speech can communicate due to their experience understanding and producing language, or do they appreciate that speech is communicative earlier, with little such experience? We examined whether 6-month-olds recognize that unfamiliar speech can communicate information about a target object. Results showed that when a Communicator used unfamiliar speech, infants looked longer when the Recipient selected the non-target object rather than the target object. However infants did not show the same pattern when the Communicator used a coughing vocalization unless the Recipient had prior information about which was the target object. By 6 months infants have some abstract understanding of the communicative function of speech that may provide an early mechanism for language and knowledge acquisition.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)872-879
Number of pages8
JournalDevelopmental Science
Volume17
Issue number6
DOIs
StatePublished - Nov 1 2014

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ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Developmental and Educational Psychology
  • Cognitive Neuroscience
  • Medicine(all)

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Do 6-month-olds understand that speech can communicate? / Vouloumanos, Athena; Martin, Alia; Onishi, Kristine H.

In: Developmental Science, Vol. 17, No. 6, 01.11.2014, p. 872-879.

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

Vouloumanos, Athena ; Martin, Alia ; Onishi, Kristine H. / Do 6-month-olds understand that speech can communicate?. In: Developmental Science. 2014 ; Vol. 17, No. 6. pp. 872-879.
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