Language and math are important tools that allow humans to better understand the world around them, and communicate with one another. Some cognitive scientists are interested in learning more about how children develop language skills and conceptions about basic math principles, and how the development of math and language skills in early childhood might be interrelated.
We use language to describe where things are all the time (i.e.: “the glass is to the left of the telephone”). Children have to learn which words to use when describing spatial relationships in varying contexts.
This study asks: how do 4 year-olds conceptualize imaginary spatial words?
Children are introduced to the imaginary words, “ziv” and “kern,” which have two possible meanings: “front” and “back,” or “north” and “south.” Children play games with a researcher in order to determine which meaning children apply to the imaginary words. For example, the researcher may point to different sides of a doll’s head while calling it either the “ziv” or “kern” side. Then, the doll is rotated and the child is asked to point to the “ziv” side or the “kern” side.
A child’s responses help us determine which meaning s/he applied to the imaginary words. For example, if a child thinks the “ziv” side of the doll means “front” side, then s/he would point to the front side of the doll, regardless of the direction it is facing. In contrast, if a child thinks the “ziv” side means “north” side, then s/he might point to the front or back of the doll, as long as that side is facing “north.”
We predict that some children will think that the words mean “north” and “south,” and others will think the words mean “front” and “back.” By looking at how children’s ideas about these words change with age, we hope to better understand how they think about space and language.
Learn about other research related to Math and Language Cognition.
This research is conducted by the Laboratory for Developmental Studies at Harvard University