Imitation in language development: If, when, and why

Bloom, Lois; Hood, Lois; Lightbown, Patsy

In order to explore the function of imitation for first language learning, imitative and spontaneous utterances were compared in the naturalistic speech of six children in the course of their development from single-word utterances (when mean length of utterance was essentially 1.0) to the emergence of grammar (when mean length of utterance approached 2.0). The relative extent of imitation, and lexical and grammatical variation in imitative and spontaneous speech were determined. There were inter-subject differences in the extent of imitation, but each child was consistent in the tendency to imitate or not to imitate across time. For those children who imitated, there were both lexical and grammatical differences in imitative and spontaneous speech, and a developmental shift from imitative to spontaneous use of particular words and semantic-syntactic relations between words. The results are discussed as evidence of an active processing of model utterances relative to the contexts in which they occur for information for language learning.


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Cognitive Psychology

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Human Development
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September 30, 2016