Feeds

Maths might tell us how kids learn language

How vocab grows from zero to 60,000

A new approach to endpoint data protection

A psychology professor reckons he has found a mathematical explanation for the "learning spurt" children experience while learning language.

How children learn language so quickly has long been debated. One explanation is the "grammar gene" or language instinct posited by Stephen Pinker which suggests children, for a limited period, have an inherent ability to decode the grammatical function of words which helps them memorise and use them.

From about a year and a half until five or six years kids can quickly absorb language. Children unfortunate enough to have not learnt any language by that age will struggle to ever learn any language perfectly. Similarly, adults learning a second language will struggle to ever be as accurate as a child who learnt the language before they were seven.

Bob McMurray, assistant psychology professor at the University of Iowa, says the spurt in language aquisition can be explained if two theories hold true - that children learn more than one word at a time and they learn more difficult or moderate words than easy words. McMurray found that whenever these two are true then children will experience an explosion in the number of words they pick up.

McMurray said: "Children are going to get that word spurt guaranteed, mathematically, as long as a couple of conditions hold. They have to be learning more than one word at a time, and they must be learning a greater number of difficult or moderate words than easy words. Using computer simulations and mathematical analysis, I found that if those two conditions are true, you always get a vocabulary explosion."

The average English speaker has a vocabulary of about 50,000 words but probably only uses between 5,000 and 10,000 regularly.

More on Bob McMurray here, or there's a press release from the university here.

There's more on the language instinct here ®

The Essential Guide to IT Transformation

More from The Register

next story
Just TWO climate committee MPs contradict IPCC: The two with SCIENCE degrees
'Greenhouse effect is real, but as for the rest of it ...'
Asteroid's DINO KILLING SPREE just bad luck – boffins
Sauricide WASN'T inevitable, reckon scientists
Brit amateur payload set to complete full circle around PLANET EARTH
Ultralight solar radio tracker in glorious 25,000km almost-space odyssey
Boffins spot weirder quantum capers as neutrons take the high road, spin takes the low
Cheshire cat effect see neutrons and their properties walk different paths
NASA Mars rover FINALLY equals 1973 Soviet benchmark
Yet to surpass ancient Greek one, however
Famous 'Dish' radio telescope to be emptied in budget crisis: CSIRO
Radio astronomy suffering to protect Square Kilometre Array
prev story

Whitepapers

7 Elements of Radically Simple OS Migration
Avoid the typical headaches of OS migration during your next project by learning about 7 elements of radically simple OS migration.
Implementing global e-invoicing with guaranteed legal certainty
Explaining the role local tax compliance plays in successful supply chain management and e-business and how leading global brands are addressing this.
Consolidation: The Foundation for IT Business Transformation
In this whitepaper learn how effective consolidation of IT and business resources can enable multiple, meaningful business benefits.
Solving today's distributed Big Data backup challenges
Enable IT efficiency and allow a firm to access and reuse corporate information for competitive advantage, ultimately changing business outcomes.
A new approach to endpoint data protection
What is the best way to ensure comprehensive visibility, management, and control of information on both company-owned and employee-owned devices?