Joint attention on actions: acquiring verbs in ostensive and non-ostensive contexts.
Two studies of verb learning are reported. The focus of both studies was on children in their second year of life learning verbs in various pragmatic contexts. Of particular interest was the comparison of ostensive contexts--in which word and referent were simultaneously present in the child's perceptual field--to non-ostensive contexts. In a naturalistic study of 24 children at 1;3 and 1;9, it was found that mothers modelled verbs for their children most often BEFORE the referent action actually occurred. Over 60% of maternal verbs were used to refer to actions that mothers wished children to perform or that they were anticipating their performing (IMPENDING actions). Some verbs were also used to refer to current actions (ONGOING actions) or actions that had just been completed (COMPLETED actions). Children responded with comprehension most often to impending models. Impending and completed models, but not ongoing models, were correlated with children's verb vocabularies at 1;9. The second study was a lexical training study of 48 two-year-olds. Children learned to produce a novel verb best when it was modelled in the impending condition. They learned to comprehend it equally well in the impending and completed conditions. Children showed no signs of superior learning in the ostensive (ongoing) learning context. Results of the two studies are discussed in terms of the different learning processes involved in acquiring nouns and verbs, and, more broadly, in terms of a social-pragmatic view of language acquisition in which the ostensive teaching paradigm is but one of many contexts in which children learn to establish a joint attentional focus with mature language users.
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