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Exploring Language and Thought Relation in

Learning How Stuff Counts


Jinjing (Jenny)
QUANTITY JUDGMENT

PUZZLING PHENOMENON
Infants3, 5 and surprisingly preschoolers2, 8 fail
to treat portions of non-cohesive substances
as individuals for quantification.

Preschoolers are learning measure phrases7.


Combinatorial nature of language may allow for
representational structures that exceed
prelinguistic ones6 (e.g., measure phrases allow us to coordinate
number, unit, and noun).

Q2: Does highlighting the individual nature of


portions of substances increase childrens
likelihood of treating them as individuals?1, 9
If something as simple as highlighting the
individual nature of portions improves
quantification, language is unlikely the main
source of childrens developing ability to
discretize substances

Mandarin-speaking children are delayed in


acquiring measure language compared to Englishspeaking children4. Are they equally delayed in
discretizing substances?

Manipulate how cups of sand are presented:


either brought out individually or together on
a tray.
Mean
N

SUBJECTS

English
Mandarin

Age

SD

Together

24

3;5

2.9m

Individually

24

3;6

3.9m

Together

18

3;7

3.8m

Individually

18

3;6

3.2m

Empty Cups

Mixed Cups
(Empty & Full)

CONCLUSIONS
Acquisition of measure phrase, but not
reasoning about sand-cup relationship,
differs across English and Mandarin;
The ability to reason about discrete units of
substances can be improved when individuals
are highlighted;
SUMMARY

Display
Question

4:1

vs.

4:3

vs.

Yes
(Yes)

No
(No)

No
(Yes)

No
(No)

Yes
(No)

No
(No)

Is this three
cups of sand?

No
(No)

Yes
(Yes)

No
(No)

No
(Yes)

No
(Yes)

Yes
(No)

Many 3-year-olds are s4ll working out the


coordina4on of number, unit, and noun of
measure phrases.
English-speaking children are more advanced
than Mandarin-speaking children in measure
phrase comprehension.

Together
Individually

100
90
80
70
60
50
40
30
20
10
0

Is this one cup


of sand?

vs.

vs.

English

4:3

4:1

vs.

A sand

vs.

vs.

vs.

B sand

C sand

D cups

English and Mandarin speaking children do not


dier.

METHODS TO ADDRESS Q2

Yes. Thats
three cups of
sand!

100
90
80
70
60
50
40
30
20
10
0

vs.

English

Mandarin

100
90
80
70
60
50
40
30
20
10
0 Number

Mandarin

% Correct

, & Susan

Carey

Hopkins University, Harvard University

Full Cups

They are more likely to apply number if the


individual por4ons are highlighted.

METHODS TO ADDRESS Q1
Test English vs. Mandarin speaking 3-yearolds on Quantity Judgment and Measure
Language Comprehension.

Li

*Response from 8 naKve speaking adults in agreement. In parenthesis =


hypothesized results for children who cannot coordinate #, unit, and noun.

% Correct

% Correct

Johns

Is this three cups of sand?

3-year-olds do not always apply number to


quan4fying substances.
100
90
80
70
60
50
40
30
20
10
0

Zuona , Peggy

LANGUAGE COMPREHENSION

Who has more sand/cups?

% Correct

QUESTIONS
Q1: Is there a relationship between learning
measure language and childrens ability to
discretize substances?

Wang ,

Alone
Yes

Number
Alone
No

Full Cups

Yes/No Check

Number Coordination Number Coordination


Alone
Alone
Needed
Needed

Empty Cups

Mixed Cups

one cup
of sand?
three cups
of sand?

C
sand

D
cups

C
sand

D
cups

or

The development in the ability to reason


about discrete units of substances does not
depend on language development, but may
instead pave way for learning and
understanding measure phrases.
Reference
1. Barner, D., Wood, J., Hauser, M., & Carey, S. (2008). Evidence for a nonlinguistic distinction between singular and plural sets in rhesus monkeys.
Cognition, 107, 603-622.
2. Huntley-Fenner, G. (2001). Why count stuff? Young preschoolers do not use
number for measurement in continuous dimensions. Developmental Science, 4,
456462.
3. Huntley-Fenner, G., Carey, S., & Solimando, A. (2002). Objects are individuals
but stuff doesnt count: Perceived rigidity and cohesiveness influence infants
representations of small groups of discrete entities. Cognition, 85(3), 203221.
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distinction (Mandarin). In Sybesma, R., Behr, W., Gu, Y., Handel, Z., Huang, J.,
Myers. J. (Eds), Encyclopedia of Chinese Language and Linguistics, Leiden,
Netherlands: Brill.
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the study of language and thought, 277-311.
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Psychology, 66, 302-326
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learning how stuff counts. In S. Baiz,, N. Goldman, & R. Hawkes (Eds.),
Proceedings of the 37th Annual Boston University Conference on Language
Development, 456-468.
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