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Researchers: Babies can understand complex language before they can speak

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Contrary to what was previously thought.

Before uttering their first word, a new study suggests, children can understand what groups of words mean together:

In a recent study of 11–12 month olds published in Cognition, researchers found that infants on the verge of saying single words themselves can already process complete sentences such as “Clap your hands.” The research sheds light on the difficulties adults have learning second languages if they focus too intensely on single words …

Twenty-three of 36 infants passed the comprehension test. While the researchers don’t spell this out, the study provides evidence that more is going on in a child’s mind at that age than many of us might at first suppose.

A sentence is not just a signal like Hi! “(You) clap your hands” is a complete thought: It is subject-verb-object, in traditional grammar terms. The ability to understand sentences is an essential foundation for higher-order thinking skills.

Other researchers have found that our brains are “prewired” to recognize words

News, “Babies can understand whole sentences before they can speak” at Mind Matters News

Takehome: The new findings challenge the idea that children progress from words to phrases to sentences. They also provide insight into second language learning.

Further takehome: This should be set against tortuous efforts to show that chimpanzees really talk. If they did, they wouldn’t need the tortuous efforts.

You may also wish to read:

Researchers: Human brains are prewired to recognize words Contrary to what psychologists had supposed, the ability to seek meaning is built in, not taught

SA2 is correct. Any one year old will understand simple statements like, "bring it here", or "do you want one?", long before he or she can talk. How can anyone do "research", much less get paid for it, on this subject? Maybe I should ask for a grant to discern what colour the sky is, or whether children can walk before they can run a marathon. Fasteddious
Makes sense. How can you construct a sentence unless you first learn how sentences are constructed? aarceng
"Prewired" is one of those colloquialisms that is disguised as a short-cut but really serves as a place-holder, theory-enhancer (like "selection") because they don't know how to describe it in materialistic terms. It's not just the wiring of the brain for some codes but the ability to extract meaning from any abstract information (babies are not "prewired" for a specific language but language in general). Silver Asiatic
This shouldn't be a surprise to anyone who has a DOG. My son's black Lab knows EXACTLY what "Buckley! Outside?" means. He also understands perhaps half a dozen variants, including "Out" instead of "Outside". Similarly, he understands comments like "Ball", which means, variously "Bring ME your ball, which I do NOT have" as well as 'I'm gonna THROW the ball I'm holding. YOU bring it back to ME." Buckley also understands that the mere SOUND of a can opener means "Dog food is on the way". I think there was a horse who's owner had taught the horse to do a number of tricks based on only a few words. Of course there is also the hoax case where a man who demonstrated that his horse could do "arithmetic" had in fact accidentally taught his horse that the man ALWAYS smiled immediately before he gave the horse the number that was the right answer. mahuna
I don’t think this is a surprise to anyone who has had kids. Steve Alten2

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