Around the six-month mark, babies start to get really fun. They’re not walking or talking, but they are probably babbling, grabbing and gumming, and teaching us about their likes and dislikes. I remember this as the time when my girls’ personalities really started making themselves known, which, really, is one of the best parts of raising a kid. After months of staring at those beautiful, bald heads, you start to get a glimpse of what’s going on inside them.
When it comes to learning language, it turns out that a lot has already happened inside those baby domes by age 6 months. A new study finds that babies this age understand quite a bit about words — in particular, the relationships between nouns.
Work in toddlers, and even adults, reveals that people can struggle with word meanings under difficult circumstances. We might briefly falter with “shoe” when an image of a shoe is shown next to a boot, for instance, but not when the shoe appears next to a hat. But researchers wanted to know how early these sorts of word relationships form.
Psychologists Elika Bergelson of Duke University and Richard Aslin, formerly of the University of Rochester in New York and now at Haskins Laboratories in New Haven, Conn., put 51 6-month-olds to a similar test. Outfitted with eye-tracking gear, the babies sat on a parent’s lap and looked at a video screen that showed pairs of common objects. Sometimes the images were closely related: mouth and nose, for instance, or bottle and spoon. Other pairs were unrelated: blanket and dog, or juice and car.
When both objects were on the screen, the…
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