It is well known that by the time children reach four to five years of age they can understand most of what is said to them with little effort. Not as much is known about how children accomplish this. Over the past 15 years techniques have been created for the examination of moment-to-moment comprehension in young children. One such technique is visual world eye-tracking. The position of the eye offers an index for the attention level as it relates to the visual context and spoken linguistic input. This method works well for testing children because it takes a spontaneous behaviour as its measure. The EU-funded DEV LANG COMPRHNSN (Development of spoken language comprehension processes in a verb-final language: Incremental interpretation of case marking cues in Turkish speaking children) project was the first study to use the visual world eye-tracking paradigm with Turkish-speaking children. The team tested whether children can interpret morphosyntactic cues incrementally. This allows for detecting the point at which a particular cue is interpreted through the use of natural sentences. A series of experimental studies were conducted to investigate how a young child acquiring a verb-final language such as Turkish or German interprets spoken utterances of various structures. Initial experiments looked at whether four year olds acquiring Turkish or German are able to interpret case marking cues that locate the verb as the sentence-final element. According to results of past studies, children cannot interpret case markers in object-initial sentences until late in childhood. Three additional experiments were conducted with Turkish-speaking children to determine whether they are able to interpret the contrast between case markers. In particular, the study wanted to examine whether preschoolers are able to interpret meaning restrictions imposed by the accusative and ablative case. DEV LANG COMPRHNSN also explored whether children interpret verbal morphemes incrementally, independent of the identity of the nouns and independent of the case marking cues by young children. Findings may be useful for cognitive scientists, theoretical linguists, computational linguists, developmental psychologists, educators, educational therapists, clinical scientists, parents and policymakers.
Language comprehension, children, eye-tracking, DEV LANG COMPRHNSN, verb-final language