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Open Access Publications from the University of California

Modeling speech act development in early childhood: the role of frequency and linguistic cues


A crucial step in children's language development is the mastery of how to use language in context. This involves the ability to recognize and use major categories of speech acts (e.g., learning that a "question" is different from a "request"). The current work provides a quantitative account of speech acts' emergence in the wild. Using a longitudinal corpus of child-caregiver conversations annotated for speech acts (Snow et al.,1996), we introduced two complementary measures of learning based on both children's production and comprehension. We also tested two predictors of learning based on input frequency and the speech acts' quality of linguistic cues. We found that children's developmental trajectory differed largely between production and comprehension. In addition, development in both of these dimensions was not explained with the same predictors (e.g., frequency in child-directed speech was predictive of production, but not of comprehension). The broader impact of this work is to provide a computational framework for the study of communicative development where both measures and predictors of children's pragmatic development can be tested and compared.

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