It's All in the Name, Baby

Infants use own name to recognize other words in speech

THURSDAY, Nov. 28, 2002 (HealthDayNews) -- Babies use their own name and at least one other familiar name -- usually connected with their mothers -- in order to recognize adjoining words when someone is talking to them in fluent speech, says a Brown University study.

The study found that infants who are six months old can recognize words. That's the youngest documented age for that ability.

Previous studies had found that infants recognized words at seven-and-a-half months and their own names at six months.

For the study, which included 24 infants, each of the infants sat on their mothers' laps facing a three-sided booth. Lights were positioned at eye level on the three sides of the booth. At the start of each trail, the light directly in front of the infant blinked in order to attract the infant's attention.

That was followed by the blinking of one of the lights on either side of the booth. When the infant turned to look at that light on the side of the booth, a recording with a few spoken sentences played. When the baby looked away from the light, the recording stopped.

There were two sets of recordings. One included the baby's name and one included another baby's name. In both recordings, the name was linked to a specific noun or verb.

For example: Sam's bike could go very fast; Sam's bike has big, black wheels; the girl rode on Sam's bike; Jon's cup was bright and shiny; Jon's cup was filled with milk; a clown drank from Jon's cup.

Continuing with these examples, the researchers then tested Sam and Jon on their recognition of bike and cup. They found that Sam recognized bike, but not cup. Jon recognized cup, but not bike.

That same kind of recognition happened when the researchers used words such as mommy or mama and paired them with other words.

The researcher say infants first need to recognize a word's sound pattern in order to figure out what it means. Highly familiar words, such as their own name or one they associate with their mother, provide infants with an "anchor," the researchers say.

The study was presented recently at the annual Boston University Conference on Language Development.

More Information

The American Speech-Language-Hearing Association has more about speech and language development.

SOURCE: Brown University, news release, November 2002
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