According to my parents, my first word was as a baby was “ashes”. Apparently they used to sing London Bridges Falling Down to me as a child, acting it out as they sang. One of the lines in the song is “ashes, ashes, we all fall down”, hence the origin of my first word.
I always wondered why the word “ashes” was the simplest to me, in order for me to vocalize it first. Why not “mama” or “dada”, as it is with most children? I’m sure my parents also used those words frequently, so what was it about “ashes” that stuck?
Deb Roy, a cognitive scientist at MIT, presented an incredibly interesting study explaining how children learn to communicate and vocalize at early ages. He conducted a study by placing cameras in every room in his house and filming nonstop for 3 years of his newborn son and his family. He then sifted through years of data and highlighted the verbal and nonverbal interactions between his son and himself that enabled him to conduct his study. He created a program that allowed him to see patterns in his recordings that show the relationship with the child’s surroundings that the child himself. He discovered that when parents are able to express words in the simplest and most accessible way, the child will learn it. His data showed a correlation between where the child continues to hear the word, and how quickly they learn to say it by the parent’s way of relating it. His main point was that the parent has to try to communicate with a child at their level of understanding in order to get them to say the word.
While his research is fascinating, and certainly illustrates the process of language development, what I find most interesting is how Roy intends to use this discovery to understand communication through social networking. Since we are clearly changing our methods of communicating through social networking and mass media, Roy intends to take advantage of our constantly adapting world. He used the same program he used when tracking his son, but instead recorded the social media that is generated from television content. Essentially, through his research he found that he could track the comments of everyone who posted or spoke about a certain show, and recorded it in certain categories. For example, more commentaries are made about the Jersey Shore than the Office, so he created a chart that showed a higher spike of commentary about the former. During his presentation, he gave a preview of his upcoming work by discussing the 2011 State of the Union Address, when he traced households that were listening or watching it on TV. Roy tracked the amount of media and communication that the speech generated and plotted the data to see how people responded to the speech. It is a step further for television, since previously cable companies were just able to poll by the number of viewers watching. Now, they can poll based on emails, IMs, and social networking, and see what people actually thought about the speech and how engaged they were in the content.
I would enjoy hearing more about his research in communication, and what his plans are for the future. If he were to come to Bucknell, I would love to hear about his progress and what the future of his research in communication holds.