We have been involved in a longitudinal research project on language development since 2002 and it is ongoing with current support (from the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development) through 2012.
Overview and Objectives
Acquiring the ability to communicate using natural language and symbolic gestures is a uniquely human capacity that underlies the exchange of information among people. There is as yet no consensus concerning how susceptible this process is to environmental and biological variation. Our longitudinal study focuses on this issue, exploring the extent and the limits of the language-learning process.
To examine language growth in the face of environmental variation we have observed 60 children, selected to represent the demographic range of the Chicago area, between the ages of 14 and 58 mos. and have continued to follow them as they enter school and learn to read. Assessments have been made of child and parent spontaneous speech, along with narrative and reading skills from 5 to 10 years.
Using this data, growth curves will be constructed for each child to track language and reading development across time, and to examine children's linguistic and reading progress in the later years (5-10 yrs.) in relation to their developmental trajectory during the early years (14-58 mos.).
To explore language growth in the face of biological variation 40 children with unilateral brain injury who were observed from 14 to 58 mos. are being followed from 5 to 10 years with an eye toward determining whether environmental variation plays the same role in predicting their language and reading growth as it does in children who have not suffered brain injury.
Along with traditional measures, the gesturing of our child subjects is being examined to determine whether children who are delayed in speech relative to their peers use gesture to compensate for those delays.
We are also using fMRI techniques to assess the brain bases underlying linguistic and gestural competence.
Our work builds on five years of longitudinal data in a diverse sample, and thus offers a unique opportunity to explore the impact that early language learning has on the oral and written skills that children develop once schooling has begun. This data has the potential to shed light on the factors that contribute to the gap between children from high vs. low socio-economic groups on the first day of school, and may even point to ways of shrinking that gap.