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Open Access Publications from the University of California

Immature vocalizations simplify the speech of Tseltal Mayan and US caregivers


What is the function of immature vocalizing in early learning environments? Previous work on infants in the US indicates that prelinguistic vocalizations elicit caregiver speech which is simplified in its linguistic structure. However, there is substantial cross-cultural variation in the extent to which children’s vocalizations elicit responses from caregivers. In the current study we ask whether children’s vocalizations elicit similar changes in their immediate caregivers’ speech structure across two cultural sites with differing perspectives on how to interact with infants and young children. Here we compare Tseltal Mayan and US caregivers’ verbal responses to their children’s vocalizations. Similar to findings from US dyads, we found that children from the Tseltal community regulate the statistical structure of caregivers’ speech simply by vocalizing. Following the interaction burst hypothesis, where clusters of child-adult contingent response alternations facilitate learning from limited input, we reveal a stable source of information facilitating language learning within ongoing interaction.

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