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 wordsNews, “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