Infant engagement and early vocabulary development: a naturalistic observation study of Mozambican infants from 1;1 to 2;1

JCL Cover - March 2016Blog post written by J. Douglas Mastin and Paul Vogt based on an article in Journal of Child Language 

This study analyzes how individuals in rural and urban Mozambican engage with infants during naturalistic observations. We assess how the proportion of time spent at 13-months in different types of engagement (i.e., being alone, observing others, interacting with and without goals) relates to infants’ language development over the second year of life. We created an extended version of Bakeman and Adamson’s (1984) categorization of infant engagement, and investigated how a more detailed analysis of infant engagement can contribute to our understanding of vocabulary development in natural settings.

In addition, we explored how different engagements relate to vocabulary size, and how these differ between the rural and urban communities. Results show that rural infants spend significantly more time in forms of solitary engagement, whereas urban infants spend more time in forms of triadic joint engagement (e.g., involving another person and a shared object or event). In regard to correlations with reported productive vocabulary, we find that dyadic PERSONS engagement (i.e. interactions not about concrete objects) have positive correlations with vocabulary measures in both rural and urban communities. In addition, we find that triadic COORDINATED JOINT ATTENTION has a positive relationship with vocabulary in the urban community, but a contrasting negative correlation with vocabulary in the rural community.

These similarities and differences are explained, based upon the parenting beliefs and socialization practices of different prototypical learning environments. Specifically, we assess how views on child-centered activities differ between rural and urban populations in traditional cultures. Overall, this study concludes that the extended categorization of engagement provides a valuable contribution to the analysis of infant engagement and their relation to language acquisition, especially for analyzing naturalistic observations as compared to semi-structured studies. Moreover, with respect to vocabulary development, Mozambican infants appear to benefit strongest from dyadic engagements without object, while they do not necessarily benefit from joint attention, as tends to more often be the case for children from industrial, developed communities.

Read the full article ‘Infant engagement and early vocabulary development: a naturalistic observation study of Mozambican infants from 1;1 to 2;1’ here

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