Dr. Christine Dollaghan, a professor in the Callier Center and the School of Behavioral and Brain Sciences, is co-author of an article on noun bias in bilingual children in the Journal of Child Language.
Most previous research about cross-language variation in noun bias – or the tendency to favor nouns in early language development – came from comparing groups of monolingual children who were acquiring different languages. Because such groups also differed in developmental level and sociodemographic characteristics, it has been difficult to draw strong conclusions about whether noun bias varies in different languages.
This new study compared noun bias in bilingual toddlers who were acquiring two languages: Mandarin and English. The percentage of nouns in Mandarin (38%) was significantly lower than the percentage of nouns in English (54%), suggesting that the preference for nouns is not equal across languages. Instead, the frequency of nouns used by parents in a particular language significantly influences young children’s word choice.