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Psychol Sci. 2015 Sep;26(9):1489-96. doi: 10.1177/0956797615594361. Epub 2015 Aug 4.

The Words Children Hear: Picture Books and the Statistics for Language Learning.

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Department of Psychological and Brain Sciences, Indiana University Bloomington
Department of Psychological and Brain Sciences, Indiana University Bloomington.


Young children learn language from the speech they hear. Previous work suggests that greater statistical diversity of words and of linguistic contexts is associated with better language outcomes. One potential source of lexical diversity is the text of picture books that caregivers read aloud to children. Many parents begin reading to their children shortly after birth, so this is potentially an important source of linguistic input for many children. We constructed a corpus of 100 children's picture books and compared word type and token counts in that sample and a matched sample of child-directed speech. Overall, the picture books contained more unique word types than the child-directed speech. Further, individual picture books generally contained more unique word types than length-matched, child-directed conversations. The text of picture books may be an important source of vocabulary for young children, and these findings suggest a mechanism that underlies the language benefits associated with reading to children.


computer simulation; language development; reading; statistical analysis

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