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Scientist Records First 5 Years of His Son's Life, Analyzes Language Development 160

jamie tips a story about MIT cognitive scientist Deb Roy, who started a project five years ago, upon bringing his newborn son home from the hospital, to record his family's movement and speech inside their house. Since then, Roy has used various techniques to analyze and distill the 200 terabytes of raw data into useful and interesting visualizations. "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." Roy also compiled videos showing each time his son used certain words over a period of many months, clearly illustrating how those parts of the child's linguistic capabilities evolved over time.
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Scientist Records First 5 Years of His Son's Life, Analyzes Language Development

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  • by Marc_Hawke ( 130338 ) on Monday March 07, 2011 @04:28PM (#35410464)

    I'm pretty sure he meant 'instinctive' rather than 'unconscious.' Famously, your baby did NOT come with a manual that told you when to simplify your sentences to help him learn. I'm not sure where the line between 'common sense' and 'instincts' is, or whether we're just doing what we've seen other people do (i.e. learned, but not necessarily taught.)

    Whatever you call it, however, 'unconscious' is definitely the wrong word.

  • by chill ( 34294 ) on Monday March 07, 2011 @04:30PM (#35410524) Journal

    Your post is an anecdote. He collected data. This is a story, and there an important difference.

    As for not being obvious about the short sentences... with my youngest son (4th child, now 20 months old), I made the conscious decision not only "no baby talk", but talk in full sentences just like I do to adults.

    I may say things 3 different ways, as well as point, draw and demonstrate but I still talk in normal adult-level conversation. You know, one step above PC tech support. :-)

  • by Anonymous Coward on Monday March 07, 2011 @04:31PM (#35410546)

    Well, I for one think that any decent software that can parse that amount of data into any kind of useful and repeatable refined data is interesting.
    Especially if it does the vocal analysis automatically... It could be very interesting to analyze peoples speech patterns in any number of social interactions.
    I'm not sure it would be GOOD science but fun?

    Lets for instance say we have 4 IT admins hanging by the watercooler and the really hot intern walks by and shows his stuff off. Yes, his. I work in a female dominated workplace and they are just as bad as us guys, theyre just a little more discreet about it.

In the realm of scientific observation, luck is granted only to those who are prepared. - Louis Pasteur