Variability and Consistency in Early Language Learning
The Wordbank Project
384 pp., 7 x 9 in, 175
- Published: March 16, 2021
- Published: March 16, 2021
A data-driven exploration of children's early language learning across different languages, providing an empirical reference and a new theoretical framework.
This book examines variability and consistency in children's language learning across different languages and cultures, drawing on Wordbank, an open database with data from more than 75,000 children and twenty-nine languages or dialects. This big data approach makes the book the most comprehensive cross-linguistic analysis to date of early language learning. Moreover, its data-driven picture of which aspects of language learning are consistent across languages suggests constraints on the nature of children's language learning mechanisms. The book provides both a theoretical framework for scholars of language learning, language, and human cognition, and a resource for future research.
Wordbank archives data from parents' reports about their children's language learning using instruments in the MacArthur-Bates Communicative Development Inventory (CDI); its goal is to make CDI data available for study and analysis. After an overview of practical and theoretical issues, each of the book's empirical chapters applies a particular analysis to the Wordbank dataset, considering such topics as vocabulary size, demographic variation, syntactic and semantic categories, and the relationship between vocabulary growth and grammar. The final three chapters draw on the preceding chapters to quantify variability and consistency, consider the bird's eye view of language acquisition afforded by the data, and reflect on methodology.
“Variability and Consistency in Early Language Learning is a tour de force. The scope of the topics covered through through the lens of parental report measures of early language development is remarkable. The authors have a total command of the extant literature, which motivates detailed and thoughtful exploration of this rich dataset. This marriage of theory and data makes me very excited to use this volume as the basis for future graduate seminars.”
Jenny Saffran, Professor of Psychology, University of Wisconsin–Madison
“The era of big data in the study of language acquisition has officially begun! Frank and colleagues have used enormous amounts of data from the CDI to answer a number of theoretically interesting and important questions about children's early language, mostly using a web-based database and automated procedures. For the study of word learning, in particular, this book will be the necessary anchoring point for almost all future work.”
Michael Tomasello, James F. Bonk Distinguished Professor of Psychology, Duke University
“Based on data from 29 languages and thousands of children, this impressive and systematic analysis shows in detail how early language development involves a 'tightly woven' developmental progression, along with room for variation that is predictable from input frequency, child gender, mother education, and unique features of the target language.”
Brian MacWhinney, Professor of Psychology and Modern Languages, Carnegie Mellon University