[PS-1.2] Age and bilingual effects in children?s statistical learning of words and syntax: Evidence from cross-situational learning

Dunn, K. 1 , Belteki, Z. 1 , Schoetensack, C. 2 , Rebuschat, P. 1 & Monaghan, P. 1

1 Lancaster University
2 University of Edinburgh

In this study, we explored the effects of age and previous language experience on learning vocabulary and syntax from a complex artificial language. English monolingual or bilingual 8 and 9 year olds participated. The artificial language comprised 12 pseudowords (nouns, verbs, adjectives, agent/patient marker words), in sentences which conformed to Japanese word order (SOV or OSV). Participants saw two dynamic scenes, one target and one foil, each comprising two aliens (nouns) performing an action (verbs), and listened to an artificial language sentence. Learning was through cross-situational learning, with no feedback provided. After training, participants were tested on their learning of each type of information in the language: nouns, verbs, marker words, and word order, by presenting an utterance and varying two scenes by one piece of information. For example, to test verb acquisition, the scenes displayed the same aliens, but they performed different actions.

Our results indicated that older children learned more rapidly than younger children. They also indicated that bilingual children were particularly adept at learning verbs likely because of their utterance-final position in the syntax. Furthermore, younger bilinguals acquired the marker words more effectively. These results suggest that bilingualism affected learners? acquisition of syntactic properties rather than vocabulary.