Expression of Affect and the Emergence of Language

Bloom, Lois; Capatides, Joanne Bitetti

The relation between infant affect expression and the emergence of language was studied in 6 girls and 6 boys, from 9 months to 2 years of age. First words (FW) and vocabulary spurt (VS) were identified in the infants' transition from prespeech vocalizing to the emergence of language. Their expressions of affect were coded for the gradient properties of valence (positive, negative, neutral, mixed, equivocal) and intensity. Frequency of nonneutral affect expression at FW and VS was positively correlated with age at FW and VS (p < .02), meaning that the more frequently the children expressed emotion, the older the age of language achievements. Time spent in neutral affect at FW and VS was negatively correlated with age at FW and VS (p < .02); the more time spent in neutral affect, the younger the age of language achievements. In addition, the measures of affect at VS predicted the eventual transition to multiword speech, with more time spent in neutral affect expression at VS negatively correlated with earlier age in the use of sentences. We propose that neutral affect supports the early transition to language by allowing the reflective stance required for language learning, and has its antecedents in the quiet alert states which support the cognitive activity of early infancy.


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Child Development

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Academic Units
Human Development
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January 26, 2017