The Nature of Language Affects a Child's Understanding of the World

It turns out that, just by the nature of the grammar of their languages, Korean- and English-speaking parents talk about the world quite differently. Korean (like Latin or French) uses an elaborate system of different verb endings to convey different meanings. As a consequence, Korean-speaking parents can, and often do, omit nouns altogether when they talk to their children. A Korean mother can say the equivalent of "moving in" when she sees the baby put a block in a cup, without saying anything about who or what is doing the moving or what it's moving into. In English, on the other hand. we must include at least one noun in almost every intelligible sentence. Moreover, English-speaking parents spend a lot of time pointing to objects and giving them names: "There's a dog! Look at the bird! Car! Airplane!"

Alison and a Korean colleague, Sonja Choi, looked at the kinds of things English-speaking mothers and Korean-speaking mothers said to their eighteen-month-old babies and found that this was indeed true: English-speaking mothers used more nouns and fewer verbs than Korean-speaking mothers. English-speaking mothers tended to name objects a lot, while Korean-speaking mothers were more likely to talk about actions.

When Alison and Soonja looked at what the eighteen-month-old children understood about the world, they found there were consistent differences between the Korean and English speakers. Like their parents, the Korean children used more verbs than the English-speaking kids, while the English-speaking kids used more nouns. But in addition, the Korean-speaking children learned how to solve problems like using the rake to get the out-of-reach toy well before the English-speaking children. English speakers, though, started categorizing objects earlier than the Korean speakers. For instance. they were more likely to put the toy horses and the pencils into two separate piles. It was as if the Korean-speaking children paid more attention to how their actions influenced the world, while the English-speaking children paid more attention to how objects fit into different categories. The likeliest explanation for this is that the children were influenced by what the grown-ups around them said, which in turn was shaped by the grown-ups' language.


Korean mothers focus of describing the world in verbs, English mothers focus on nouns; as a result, Korean children are better physical problem solvers while English children are better at understanding how objects fit together associatively.

Folksonomies: babies learning language understanding

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Verb (0.927401): dbpedia | freebase | opencyc
Noun (0.913185): dbpedia | freebase | opencyc
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Richard Pryor (0.665695): website | dbpedia | freebase | opencyc | yago | musicBrainz
Grammatical number (0.657668): dbpedia | freebase

 The Scientist in the Crib: What Early Learning Tells Us About the Mind
Books, Brochures, and Chapters>Book:  Gopnik , Meltzoff , Kuhl (2001-01-01), The Scientist in the Crib: What Early Learning Tells Us About the Mind, Harper Paperbacks, Retrieved on 2011-07-06
Folksonomies: education parenting pregnancy babies children infancy