There is a very interesting video on TED about how babies learn to speak new words. It is given by Deb Roy who directs the Cognitive Machines group at the MIT Media Lab, where he studies how children learn language, and designs machines that learn to communicate in human-like ways. In this talk, he tells us how he wired up video cameras into every room of his home so they could record the natural daily interactions in his son’s life and from the data understand the process of how a child learns language. This is part of a project called The Human Speechome Project.
Unfortunately, they Deb Roy doesn’t really say as much about a child’s language acquisition as I had hoped for. His motivation for understanding how humans learn stems from his work on designing machines that area able to communicate in human-like ways. What was pretty cool, though, was the part where they condensed half a year into 40 seconds to show how his son went from “gaga” to “water”. It occurs at about 4 minutes and 20 seconds into the talk, if you want to listen to it.
Only the first part of the talk is relevant to how a child learns to speak. In the second part, he goes on to talk about the relevance of this information to mass media. If you want to read more about Roy’s research on a child’s linguistic development, he has some publications listed at the The Human Speechome Project.