Objectively measured teacher and preschooler vocalizations: Phonemic diversity is associated with language abilities

Samantha G. Mitsven, Lynn Perry, Yudong Tao, Batya E. Elbaum, Neil F. Johnson, Daniel S Messinger

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

Abstract

Over half of US children are enrolled in preschools, where the quantity and quality of language input from teachers are likely to affect children's language development. Leveraging repeated objective measurements, we examined the rate per minute and phonemic diversity of child and teacher speech-related vocalizations in preschool classrooms and their association with children's end-of-year receptive and expressive language abilities measured with the Preschool Language Scales (PLS-5). Phonemic diversity was computed as the number of unique consonants and vowels in a speech-related vocalization. We observed three successive cohorts of 2.5–3.5-year-old children enrolled in an oral language classroom that included children with and without hearing loss (N = 29, 16 girls, 14 Hispanic). Vocalization data were collected using child-worn audio recorders over 34 observations spanning three successive school years, yielding 21.53 mean hours of audio recording per child. The rate of teacher vocalizations positively predicted the rate of children's speech-related vocalizations while the phonemic diversity of teacher vocalizations positively predicted the phonemic diversity of children's speech-related vocalizations. The phonemic diversity of children's speech-related vocalizations was a stronger predictor of end-of-year language abilities than the rate of children's speech-related vocalizations. Mediation analyses indicated that the phonemic diversity of teacher vocalizations was associated with children's receptive and expressive language abilities to the extent that it influenced the phonemic diversity of children's own speech-related vocalizations. The results suggest that qualitatively richer language input expands the phonemic diversity of children's speech, which in turn is associated with language abilities.

Original languageEnglish (US)
JournalDevelopmental science
DOIs
StateAccepted/In press - 2021

Keywords

  • language development
  • language quantity
  • objective measurement
  • phonemic diversity
  • preschool children
  • vocalizations

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Developmental and Educational Psychology
  • Cognitive Neuroscience

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