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Wilfrid Laurier University Faculty of Science
December 2, 2016
Canadian Excellence


Early Word Learning  

Knowing when children learn different types of words, as well as how and why they learn these words, would provide us with a better grasp of the fundamental building blocks of language learning. This research project uses the Intermodal Preferential Looking (IPL) method to better understand the learning process of early words (nouns vs. verbs) in different linguistic environments by young children between 12 and 36 months old. By comparing early word preferences in English and Mandarin Chinese that vary in structural features, the common and language-specific processes involved in vocabulary development can be identified. This project is partially funded by the Petro-Canada Young Innovator Award.  

The nature of early bilingual vocabulary

            According to the noun bias hypothesis, nouns are conceptually easier to learn than verbs because objects are concrete and distinguishable in the world (e.g., Gentner, 1982). Evidence for this hypothesis has been mixed. This study examines the early vocabulary composition of two Cantonese-English bilingual children. If noun bias is universal, the noun-verb asymmetry should be exhibited in the early vocabulary of both languages for these children. Transcripts of the bilingual Cantonese-English children as well as monolingual English and Cantonese speakers aged 12-19 months, came from CHILDES. Common nouns, proper nouns and verbs were analyzed. 


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