Developmental Psychology; Linguistic Relativity; Language Acquisition; Perception of Causality
You Guanghao, Bickel Balthasar, Daum Moritz M., Stoll Sabine (2021), Child-directed speech is optimized for syntax-free semantic inference, in Scientific Reports
, 11(1), 16527-16527.
Ger Ebru, Stuber Larissa, Küntay Aylin C., Göksun Tilbe, Stoll Sabine, Daum Moritz M. (2021), Influence of causal language on causal understanding: A comparison between Swiss German and Turkish, in Journal of Experimental Child Psychology
, 210, 105182-105182.
Causality is an ubiquitous feature of human cognition and communication. Causality is universally expressed in human languages but it is particularly intriguing for learning because causes of events cannot be directly perceived but rather need to be inferred. From early on in ontogeny infants focus on the causality of events. One of the unsolved questions is how children learn about the interpretation and expression of such causal events in becoming a native speaker of their language. Causality is expressed very differently in the languages of the world and a controversially discussed research question is whether language acquisition is driven by language-specific features of the input or by universal principles. The goal of this project is to contribute to this question. To achieve this goal we combine a large-scale cross-linguistic corpus study with an experimental study. This allows us to learn both about the natural use of causatives and test in detail which variables might be relevant for the learning of causatives. In the corpus-study we analyse the learning of causatives in children age 2-3 in longitudinal corpora of 9 languages of very different grammatical structures (ACQDIV corpus). This allows us to systematically track the development of causatives in languages with different causative marking (morphological, lexical and periphrastic) and correlate the development to the input.To systematically test variables relevant for the understanding of causation and assess whether children apply similar hypotheses about causality dependent or independent of their language we will use a cross-linguistic experimental approach. We compare two typologically unrelated languages, with different marking of causatives, namely Swiss German and Turkish. In Swiss German causality is mainly expressed lexically, (sitzen ‘sit’ vs. setzen ‘to seat’ vs. ‘to put’) while in Turkish, causality is mainly expressed morphologically with an affix added to non-causative verbs (unutmak ‘to forget’ vs. unutturmak ‘to make forget’). To assess the extent to which children’s understanding changes in the early phase of grammar learning (age 2-3), and to establish whether there are differences in the two languages, we conduct three experiments. We systematically control for the following three features: (i) intentionality, (ii) animacy, and (iii) physical contact, which have been established by a number of developmental studies to contribute to the early perception of causality. The experimental set-up uses a combined eye-tracking and pointing paradigm that allows measuring both implicit looking data and explicit pointing data. Since there is considerable variation in early linguistic development the individual competence of each child will be assessed using a CDI (MacArthur-Bates Communicative Development Inventories, Fenson et al., 1993), parental reports to assess language comprehension and production in the respective Swiss-German and Turkish versions. If language is the major driving force right from the beginning Turkish children should behave differently from their Swiss German counterparts. We expect that Swiss-German children rely longer on the three features relevant in infant perception of causality than Turkish children, who will have a clear-cut marker of causality, which potentially facilitates the adaption to the adult system.This project will contribute substantially to the question about the driving factors of language acquisition and to the overall question of linguistic relativity. It is interdisciplinary (involving developmental psychology, linguistics and computational linguistics) and intercultural in analysing typological different languages learned by children from different cultural background with a focus on three areas of language development: 1) early concepts of causality, 2) early comprehension of causative (transitive) sentence structures and grammatical cues, and 3) interaction between the development of causality concepts and first language acquisition.