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UBC Theses and Dissertations

Culture and the acquisition of nouns and verbs Lavin, Tracy A.


In the early stages of word learning, children often acquire large numbers of nouns and relatively few verbs. This noun bias is a robust feature of early word learning for children acquiring English; however, it is not clear that it is a universal feature of word learning. Gillette, Gleitman, Gleitman, and Lederer (1999) have shown that adults exhibit an analogous noun bias in a simulated word learning (SVL) task in which they watch silent video clips of mothers interacting with their toddlers, and are asked to identify target nouns and verbs uttered by the mothers. In previous work, Western adults correctly identified more nouns than verbs in this task. In the current work, adults from three different cultural groups (Western, Eastern, and Second Generation) were tested in two versions of the SVL task, and only Westerners showed consistent evidence of a noun bias. In Experiment 1, participants were tested in a version of the SVL task in which the mother/toddler pairs were Western. Westerners showed a robust noun bias in this task, but Second Generation and Eastern participants did not. In Experiment 2, participants were tested in a version of the SVL task in which the mother/toddler pairs were Eastern. Western and Second Generation participants showed a noun bias, but Easterners did not. In Experiment 3, a narrower definition of "Eastern" (compared to Experiment 1) was adopted, and participants were again tested in the Western version of the SVL task. All three groups showed a noun bias; however, the bias was strongest for Westerners, weaker for Second Generation participants, and weakest for Easterners. When results from the Eastern and Western versions of the task were compared, there was a clear interaction between the cultural background of participants and the version on which they were tested. Overall, the findings indicate that nouns are more readily identifiable in a simulated vocabulary learning task, but only Westerners show a robust noun bias in this task.

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