Speaker reliability in verb acquisition

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Colbert, Dorian Darnell

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This study explored infants’ sensitivity to speaker reliability in verb labeling. Past research has focused primarily on nouns (Koenig & Echols, 2003). The participants in this study were 32 24-month-old infants. Visual stimuli included a group of intransitive verbs that should be familiar to 24-month-olds such as jumping, turning, and waving. These stimuli were shown on a television display. Half of the participants were in a True Labeling Condition, in which they heard labels that correctly matched the familiar actions. The other half of the participants were in a False Labeling Condition, in which they heard familiar labels that did not correspond with the familiar actions they saw. The amounts of time that infants looked at action, labeler, and parent were compared across true and false conditions using t-tests. I expected to find that infants have similar expectations about how labels map to referents for verbs and for nouns, such that they expect speakers to apply consistent labels to both. As a result, infants were expected to look longer to the “false” than “true” labeler. Contrary to predictions, infants failed to look longer at the action in the true condition than the false, or to the speaker in the false condition as compared to the true. The comprehensive results for the studies did not indicate that infants expect accurate labels for actions from humans who are intending to refer, as did previous research with objects.




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