Joint attention and early language.
This paper reports 2 studies that explore the role of joint attentional processes in the child's acquisition of language. In the first study, 24 children were videotaped at 15 and 21 months of age in naturalistic interaction with their mothers. Episodes of joint attentional focus between mother and child--for example, joint play with an object--were identified. Inside, as opposed to outside, these episodes both mothers and children produced more utterances, mothers used shorter sentences and more comments, and dyads engaged in longer conversations. Inside joint episodes maternal references to objects that were already the child's focus of attention were positively correlated with the child's vocabulary at 21 months, while object references that attempted to redirect the child's attention were negatively correlated. No measures from outside these episodes related to child language. In an experimental study, an adult attempted to teach novel words to 10 17-month-old children. Words referring to objects on which the child's attention was already focused were learned better than words presented in an attempt to redirect the child's attentional focus.
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