Tots said to have grammar sense

Aug. 23, 2011 at 4:50 PM
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LIVERPOOL, England, Aug. 23 (UPI) -- Two-year-old children can understand complex grammar even before they have learned to speak in complete sentences, British researchers say.

Psychologists at the University of Liverpool say their study suggests infants understand more about language structure than they can actually articulate and that knowledge comes at a much earlier age than previously thought.

"We tested this theory by showing 2-year-old children pictures of a cartoon rabbit and duck," researcher Caroline Rowland said. "One picture was the rabbit acting on the duck, lifting the duck's leg for example, and the other was an image of the animals acting independently, such as swinging a leg.

"We then played sentences with made-up verbs -- 'the rabbit is glorping the duck' -- over a loudspeaker and asked them to point to the correct picture.

"They picked out the correct image more often than we would expect them to by chance," she said

Her study and others like it, she said, suggest that "even at 21 months infants are sensitive to the different meanings produced by particular grammatical construction, even if they can't articulate words properly," Rowland said in a university release Tuesday.

The study has been published in the journal Cognitive Science.

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