The impact of vocal emotion on early word learning: Behavioural and neural responses to parental IDS in Swedish and Australian English

Project leader

Funding source

Marcus and Amalia Wallenberg Foundation

Project Details

Start date: 01/01/2014
End date: 01/01/2018
Funding: 4087000 SEK


The proposed project aims to establish how the affective salience of infant-directed (ID) speech contributes to early language development, specifically word learning. This is the first time this will be directly investigated. It is well known that vocal affect attracts infant attention; and evidence from infants of depressed mothers suggests that general learning mechanisms depend on the affective salience of mothers’ speech. Combining behavioural and neurophysiological measures, we will test the predictive contribution that vocal emotion in IDS has on early word learning to establish its importance for early language development. The project includes: (1) Recording the IDS of Swedish and Australian mothers and fathers when infants are 6, 9, and 12 months of age. These recordings will be rated for a small established set of affective types produced in exaggerated form in IDS plus other more traditional measures. (2) Tests of infant speech perception using a native/non-native discrimination test recognised as an important precursor to successful vocabulary development at 6, 9, and 12 months. (3) Recording infant neural responses with electroencephalography (EEG), and (3) looking times to matching vs mismatching pictures using Tobii eyetracker and auditory words with high and low ID emotion at 6, 9, and 12 months. (5) Longitudinal follow-up of child word learning using web-based vocabulary inventories for Swedish and Australian English at 12, 18, and 24 months; (6) in addition to home-recording of parent-child interaction using LENA word count devices at 24 months. Understanding how vocal emotion in IDS affects word learning can revolutionise our understanding of early language development, and uncover critical predictors that underpin optimal development. These findings also afford translation for improving clinical outcomes for language acquisition in children at risk of language delays, such as children with hearing loss or a mother with post-natal depression.

External Partners

Last updated on 2017-23-03 at 09:02

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