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Infant language learning

Trainee Achievements

Infant language learning

IGERT Trainee Carolyn Quam gained expertise in developmental psycholinguistics to study how infants learn which changes in speech sounds are meaningful in English. Changes in intonation (or tune) in English do not imply a different word (e.g., "Daddy!" vs. "Daddy?") but do signal a word change in other languages ('tonal' languages, e.g., Mandarin). How do babies discover which kind of language they are learning? In eyetracking experiments on 18-30 month olds learning English, Quam found that younger children treat intonation as signaling a new word, whereas older children do not. This suggest that infants come prepared to learn both tonal and non-tonal languages and through exposure learn the characteristics of their native tongue. Quam also showed that it is only much later (4-5 years) that children learning English come to learn how intonation conveys emotion. Quam received training from Psychology Professor Dan Swingley and Linguistics Professors Jiahong Yuan & Mark Liberman.