Lightning talk: Vocabulary production of young children from diverse socioeconomic groups
Vocabulary development is one of the fundamental aspects of language acquisition and it has a central impact in cognitive and linguistic development, in literacy acquisition and in general academic performance (Hoff, 2013; Snow & Matthews, 2016). Various studies have researched the influence of early experiences in child language development and have
considered the differences based on socioeconomic status or cultural community (Rowe, 2012; Shneidman & Goldin Meadow, 2012; Fernald, Marchman & Weisleder, 2013; Deanda et al., 2016; Sperry et al., 2018). In this regard, a more detailed analysis of the range and qualitative characteristics of the children’s lexicon in these communities becomes relevant.
My PhD research project aims to study the productive vocabulary of 4-year-old Argentine children from diverse socioeconomic groups and the linguistic input they hear at their homes during the activities they participate in on a daily basis. Each of the situations has been transcribed in CHAT format and will be analyzed with CLAN software (MacWhinney, 2000). At first, the analysis will consider the amount and variety of words as well as the frequency of the various lexical categories present in the input and in the children’s production, with socioeconomic group and activity type considered as mediating variables.
The investigation will use a spontaneous speech corpus (Rosemberg, Arrúe & Alam, 2005-2012) that consists of 468 hours of daily interactions recorded at home, from middle socioeconomic status (N = 19) and low socioeconomic status (N = 20). The criteria to construct the groups involved two variables: the mother’s degree of education and the place of residence. Mothers belonging to the middle socioeconomic status group had at least 16 years of schooling, i.e. a college degree, and they lived in a residential neighborhood of Buenos Aires or Buenos Aires Province. Mothers belonging to the low socioeconomic status group had 12 years of schooling maximum, i.e. no more than a high school degree, and lived in informal settlements [“villas de emergencia”] of Buenos Aires or Buenos Aires Province.
The observations were made by research assistants who had been especially trained for this task. They accompanied the child during 12 hours distributed in 3 or 4 days at different times and days of the week. During the observations, the assistants didn’t start conversations nor activities, but they did respond to questions and engage in games if asked to. The adults and the rest of the children of the household were asked to keep on with their daily activities with the 4-year-old child as they normally did.
This kind of naturalistics studies allow us to analyze the children's production regarding the linguistic development opportunities that their immediate environment provides them with (Borzone & Rosemberg, 2000; Rosemberg et al., 2016). Studying the input that young children hear becomes particularly important when trying to account for those aspects of early experiences that could potentially explain individual and social differences. The Argentine population has been barely researched; it presents sociodemographic characteristics that make it highly diverse and highly different from the European or American populations that have been studied. Besides, the few studies that have worked with these populations (Rosemberg et al., 2011; Menti et al., 2013; Menti et al., 2014; Ramírez et al., 2019; Rosemberg & Stein, 2009) have only focused on linguistic input and they have not taken into account the vocabulary the children produced.
Studying vocabulary development closely is especially relevant because these abilities enable the mastering of basic literacy skills: they promote access to the writing system and the development of explicit discourse modalities that are required to process written text. These abilities, hence, have a major impact on academic achievements in primary school (Biemiller & Boote, 2006; Goswami, 2001; Malatesha Joshi, 2005; Perfetti, 2007; Protopapas et al., 2007; Sénéchal et al., 2006; Snow et al., 1995). In this scenario, we consider that studying the input that children hear in relation with their own production will contribute to the discussion on how children’s vocabulary is built.