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Contextual Variation in Language Input to Children: A Naturalistic Approach


Children learn what words mean from hearing words used across a variety of contexts. Understanding how different contextual distributions relate to the words young children say is critical because context robustly affects basic learning and memory processes. This study examined children's everyday experiences using naturalistic video recordings to examine two contextual factors-where words are spoken and who speaks the words-through analyzing the nouns in language input and children's own language productions. The families in the study (n = 8) were two-parent, dual-income, middle-class families with a child between 1 year, 3 months to 4 years, 4 months (age M = 3 years, 5 months) and at least one additional sibling. The families were filmed as they interacted in their homes and communities over 2 weekdays and 2 weekend days. From these videos, we identified when the focal child was exposed to language input and randomly selected 9 hr of contiguous speech segments per family to obtain 6,129 noun types and 30,257 noun tokens in language input and 1,072 noun types and 5,360 noun tokens in children's speech. We examined whether the words that children heard in more variable spatial and speaker contexts were produced with greater frequency by children. The results suggest that both the number of places and the number of speakers that characterized a child's exposure to a noun were positively associated with the child's production of that noun, independent of how frequently the word was spoken. (PsycInfo Database Record (c) 2022 APA, all rights reserved).

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