UBC Faculty Research and Publications

Minimal Pair Word Learning and Vocabulary Size: Links with Later Language Skills Kemp, Nenagh; Scott, Julianne; Bernhardt, B. May; Johnson, Carolyn E.; Siegel, Linda S.; Werker, Janet


There is increasing interest in the link between early linguistic skills and later language development. In a longitudinal study, we investigated how infants’ a) ability to use speech sound categories to guide word learning in the habituation-based minimal pair “Switch” task, and b) early productive vocabulary, related to their concurrent and later language task performance. The participants at Phase 1 were 64 infants aged 16-24 months (25 with familial risk of language/speech impairment), followed up at 27 months (Phase 2) and at three years (Phase 3). Phase 1 productive vocabulary was correlated with Phase 2 productive vocabulary, and with concurrent and later (Phase 3) tests of language production and comprehension scores (standardized tool), and phonology. Phase 1 Switch task performance was correlated with concurrent productive vocabulary and language production scores, but not by Phase 3. However, a combination of early low vocabulary score and a preference for looking at an already-habituated word-object combination in the Switch task may show some promise as an identifier for early speech-language intervention. We discuss how these relations can help us better understand the foundations of word learning.

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