Comprehension

It is much more difficult to measure the child's comprehension of syntactic and morphological structures. Although in naturalistic contexts young children give the impression they understand significantly more that they say, this may reflect the child's use of nonlinguistic context and other cues rather than knowledge of abstract linguistic structure to compute the underlying semantic relations of sentences.

Methods to assess comprehension include a variety of paradigms, each of which has both advantages and disadvantages. The oldest method is the use of diary studies, which document the conditions and contexts in which a child understands or fails to understand a particular structure. Experimental procedures may include act-out tasks, in which an experimenter asks the child to enact a sentence or phase using a set of toys and props, or direction tasks, in which the child is asked to act out an event or command. Choice selection paradigms have also been developed, including picture-choice tasks, in which the child selects from a set of pictures the one that best represents the linguistic form presented by the experimenter, and preferential-looking tasks that have successfully been used with infants. In this kind of task infants listen to a linguistic message and have the choice of two videos to observe, only one of which matches the message. Infants who look reliably longer at the matching scene are credited with understanding the linguistic structure that was presented.

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