Word birth – the first 5 years of life
An outstanding undertaking, beautifully captured on video MIT cognitive scientist Deb Roy shared a remarkable experiment, from the day his son was brought home from the hospital the family’s every movement and word was captured and tracked with a series of fisheye lenses in every room in their house. For Five Years!
The purpose was to understand how we learn language, in context, through the words we hear. For example, Roy was able to track the length of every sentence spoken to the child in which a particular word–like “water”–was included. Right around the time the child started to say the word, what Roy calls the “word birth,” something remarkable happened.
“Caregiver speech dipped to a minimum and slowly ascended back out in complexity.” In other words, when mom and dad and nanny first hear a child speaking a word, they unconsciously stress it by repeating it back to him all by itself or in very short sentences. Then as he gets the word, the sentences lengthen again. The infant shapes the caregivers’ behavior, the better to learn.
The clip below shows the evolution of the word ‘ball’.