Parents Calibrate Speech to Their Children's Vocabulary Knowledge

AbstractYoung children learn language at an incredible rate. While children come prepared with powerful statistical learning mechanisms, the statistics they encounter are also prepared for them: Children learn from caregivers motivated to communicate with them. Do caregivers modify their speech in order to support children’s comprehension? We asked children and their parents to play a simple reference game in which the parent’s goal was to guide their child to select a target animal from a set of three. We show that parents calibrate their referring expressions to their children’s language knowledge, producing more informative references for animals that they thought their children did not know. Further, parents learn about their children’s knowledge over the course of the game, and calibrate their referring expressions accordingly. These results underscore the importance of understanding the communicative context in which language learning happens.

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