Home > Research > Publications & Outputs > Constraints on novel word learning in heritage ...


Text available via DOI:

View graph of relations

Constraints on novel word learning in heritage speakers

Research output: Contribution to Journal/MagazineJournal articlepeer-review

Article number1379736
<mark>Journal publication date</mark>17/04/2024
<mark>Journal</mark>Frontiers in Psychology
Publication StatusPublished
<mark>Original language</mark>English


Introduction: Recent research on word learning has found that adults can rapidly learn novel words by tracking cross-situational statistics, but learning is greatly influenced by the phonological properties of the words and by the native language of the speakers. Mandarin-native speakers could easily pick up novel words with Mandarin tones after a short exposure, but English-native speakers had specific difficulty with the tonal components. It is, however, unclear how much experience with Mandarin is needed to successfully use the tonal cue in word learning. In this study, we explored this question by focusing on the heritage language population, who typically are exposed to the target language at an early age but then develop and switch to another majority language. Specifically, we investigated whether heritage Mandarin speakers residing in an English-speaking region and speaking English as a dominant language would be able to learn novel Mandarin tonal words from statistical tracking. It helps us understand whether early exposure to the target feature is sufficient to promote the use of that feature in word learning later in life. Methods: We trained 30 heritage Mandarin speakers with Mandarin pseudowords via a cross-situational statistical word learning task (CSWL). Results and discussion: Heritage Mandarin speakers were able to learn the pseudowords across multiple situations, but similar-sounding words (i.e., minimal pairs) were more difficult to identify, and words that contrast only in lexical tones (i.e., Mandarin lexical tone) were distinguished at chance level throughout learning. We also collected information about the participants’ heritage language (HL) experience and usage. We did not observe a relationship between HL experience/usage and performance in tonal word learning, suggesting that HL exposure does not necessarily lead to an advantage in learning the target language.