Sensitivity to linguistic register in 20-month-olds: Understanding the register-listener relationship and its abstract rules.

PLoS ONE. 2018;13(4):e0195214 DOI 10.1371/journal.pone.0195214


Journal Homepage

Journal Title: PLoS ONE

ISSN: 1932-6203 (Online)

Publisher: Public Library of Science (PLoS)

LCC Subject Category: Medicine | Science

Country of publisher: United States

Language of fulltext: English

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Ayaka Ikeda

Tessei Kobayashi

Shoji Itakura


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Time From Submission to Publication: 24 weeks


Abstract | Full Text

Linguistic register reflects changes in speech that depend on the situation, especially the status of listeners and listener-speaker relationships. Following the sociolinguistic rules of register is essential in establishing and maintaining social interactions. Recent research suggests that children over 3 years of age can understand appropriate register-listener relationships as well as the fact that people change register depending on their listeners. However, given previous findings that infants under 2 years of age have already formed both social and speech categories, it may be possible that even younger children can also understand appropriate register-listener relationships. The present study used Infant-Directed Speech (IDS) and formal Adult-Directed Speech (ADS) to examine whether 20-month-old toddlers can understand register-listener relationships. In Experiment 1, we used a violation-of-expectation method to examine whether 20-month-olds understand the individual associations between linguistic registers and listeners. Results showed that the toddlers looked significantly longer at a scene in which the adult was talked to in IDS than when the infant was talked to in IDS. In contrast, there was no difference when the adult and the infant were talked to in formal ADS. In Experiments 2 and 3, we used a habituation switch paradigm to examine whether 20-month-olds understand the abstract rule that a change of register depends on listeners rather than on speakers. Results showed that the toddlers looked significantly longer at the scene where the register rule was violated. The present findings provide new evidence that even 20-month-olds already understand that people change their way of speaking based on listeners, although their understanding of individual register-listener relationships is immature.