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Starting over: International Adoption as a Natural Experiment in Language Development

Jesse Snedeker, Joy Geren and Carissa L. Shafto
Psychological Science
Vol. 18, No. 1 (Jan., 2007), pp. 79-87
Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/40064581
Page Count: 9
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Starting over: International Adoption as a Natural Experiment in Language Development
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Abstract

Language development is characterized by predictable shifts in the words children produce and the complexity of their utterances. Because acquisition typically occurs simultaneously with maturation and cognitive development, it is difficult to determine the causes of these shifts. We explored how acquisition proceeds in the absence of possible cognitive or maturational roadblocks, by examining the acquisition of English in internationally adopted preschoolers. Like infants, and unlike other second-language learners, these children acquire language from child-directed speech, without access to bilingual informants. Parental reports and speech samples were collected from 27 preschoolers, 3 to 18 months after they were adopted from China. These children showed the same developmental patterns in language production as monolingual infants (matched for vocabulary size). Early on, their vocabularies were dominated by nouns, their utterances were short, and grammatical morphemes were generally omitted. Children at later stages had more diverse vocabularies and produced longer utterances with more grammatical morphemes.

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