What can I say? Offbeat science sings to me. Penguins and their bubbles. Honey bees and their ills. These stories pique my interest and hold it. The same can be said for stories about language acquisition. I got hooked on that in high school when a classmate and I duplicated the experiments run by Chomsky with grade school kids. When our results mirrored his, we were ecstatic. It’s no surprise, then, that the story of the researcher parents who recorded every moment of the first three years of their son’s life is right up my alley.
It seems the idea occurred to them before they were pregnant. One can almost imagine the moment each realized the other was trying to broach the subject of using their future offspring as a study subject. One can also almost imagine the fervor with which they investigated all the downsides to be sure they were not doing anything that would harm their child – and then the zeal with which they went forward in geek-tandem to create the perfect learning laboratory for their study. Don’t get me wrong. I’m not knocking it – I just wish I’d thought of it myself.
The first thing they did was seek authorization for an experiment involving a human. With that in hand, they set out to “childproof” their home. The result? Eleven cameras and fourteen microphones. All was up on the ceiling so it would be out of the way. When they had a good amount of data, they began their analysis. Then they turned it into a TED Talk, like you do.
A few years later, the process and results made their way into an article published last week in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.
The most significant finding is that children learn language in context. The words they hear in conjunction with a particular situation are the words they are most likely to utter on their own. One example given was “kick.” Because this word comes up in the context of soccer and in few other places, a very young child learns to associate that word with those circumstances. The likelihood of the child saying the word are therefore enhanced.
I asked my kids if they’d be willing to be recorded 24/7 for a few months so that I could study some aspect of their language usage. Sadly, the answer was a resounding NO. I’m left to study babies in grocery lines or switch my attention to language acquisition in low-dander dogs.
[Featured image via Shutterstock]