The Acquisition of Language Variation in Child Learners

Students

2021
College

Faculty

Assistant Professor

Project Summary

Children are exceptionally talented at learning languages, as their developing minds are prone to picking up on different patterns. The Child Language and Learning Lab at the University of Pennsylvania, run by primary investigator Kathryn Schuler, studies this concept of language acquisition in children. The main experiment that was conducted during my time at the lab was the Pattern Learning Study, wherein children and adults were exposed to an artificial language via a computer game, and later tested on their acquisition of different patterns in the language that were presented at different rates or errors, known as inconsistent input. This was done by exposing participants to a language called “Silly Speak” that used two different plural markers on nouns- “ka” and “po” –at two different rates. “Ka” was used 67% of the time, whereas “po” was used 33% of the time. Through our research, we observed that, when tested on their acquisition of the languge, adults tended to pick up on this pattern and stick to the 67%-33% pattern, whereas children tended to regularize “ka,” using it almost 100% of the time.

 

Through my involvement with the Child Language and Learning Lab, I was exposed to many different aspects of research, including recruiting human subjects, running experiments on both children and adults, transcribing data, and coding data. A very crucial fact that I learned through this research experience is how unique doing research on children is, as they are perceived as a vulnerable population. There are many regulations set specifically for conducting experiments on children, and the children themselves can provide very unique reactions to experiments. For example, children had the choice to quit the study, as it was a bit long and they got bored. I was also able to learn about differences that adults and children present in their responses to the tests after being exposed to an artificial language with inconsistent input, as these responses are based on the development level of their brains.

 

This research proved to be very beneficial to my educational experience, as well as interesting to be a part of. It helped me solidify my interest in linguistics, which I am now planning on minoring in, as well as made me more knowledgeable in the field. Learning this information in a classroom setting is very different than doing so in a hands-on setting, which I had the privilege of being a part of and hope to continue to be a part of in the future.