Embodied and environmental influences on early word learning




Schroer, Sara E.

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Most early language learning research has primarily focused on the words infants hear in their daily lives and the referents they see. Growing evidence suggests that infant’s hands, bodies, and motor development play an important role in language acquisition, shaping the available statistics for word learning beyond visual attention alone. Simultaneously, other work has shown that infants’ environments, including the physical, temporal, and contextual environments that words occur in, also play a critical role in language acquisition. The goal of this dissertation is to present three studies that consider both the embodied and environmental factors that influence word learning. Paper 1 demonstrates that coordinated infant object manipulation and visual attention, not visual attention alone, creates moments optimal for word learning. Paper 2 extends this work by showing that visually ambiguous naming moments can be “resolved” through infant’s object handling, but not their parent’s, to support real-time learning. Paper 3 presents findings from an at-home study, showing that the coordination of parents’ and toddlers’ eyes and hands improves the quality of naming moments in both object play and mealtime interactions. In the rich, noisy world of toddlers’ everyday lives, embodied attention plays a critical role in coordinating dyadic behaviors and creating informative naming moments.



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