Plymouth BabyLab

Your BabyLab needs you!

Meet the BabyLab Team »

Inter-modal Preferential Looking

Inter Modal Image

Young children are expert word learners. This study looks at how infants learn these words, looking in particular at a strategy called Mutual Exclusivity. This explains how infants associate a new word they hear with something they can see but don’t yet have a name for (a novel object), e.g. when seeing a bus and a cat together a child that knows ‘cat’ but has not yet learned the word ‘bus’ when hearing ‘bus’ will associate this new word with the novel object. This then leads to new words being learned and an increase in vocabulary.

Here at the babylab we are interested in how infants hearing different dialects or accents of just one language approach the task of learning new words. They usually hear two quite distinct pronunciations of some words, e.g. for the object ‘cup’, a parent from the South West will say ‘cup’ whereas an Irish accented parent will pronounce this as ‘cop’. Do infants hearing different pronunciations of a word for a single object (a bidialectal infant) treat these as separate words for the same object? If this is the case, does this affect their use of Mutual Exclusivity as a strategy for learning words?

"My name is Freya and here is a picture of me. I had to sit and watch a really big TV where I saw some pictures of things I knew and also something that looked a bit strange while a lady said some words I knew and a funny word I had never heard before. I liked looking at the pictures and the Babylab lady told mummy they were videoing my face to see which ones I liked best and what I learnt about the funny new word. I got my Rocket Scientist certificate for doing this study, a red cup and a balloon!!!"

Using the setup described, we can see what children know about the words they are hearing, e.g. after hearing the word ‘cat’ they should look longer to the picture of the cat. Of most interest is what infants do when hearing the made up word and seeing the novel object. If they are using the strategy of Mutual Exclusivity then when hearing the made up word they would look longer to the novel object, whereas if they are not using this strategy they would look at both pictures equally. We will have two groups of infants complete this study, monodialectal (those hearing only accents from the South West) and bidialectal (those hearing at least two accents) to see if these groups differ in their use of Mutual Exclusivity for learning new words.