The sound of small children chattering has always been considered cute – but not particularly sophisticated. However, research by a Newcastle University expert has shown their speech is far more advanced than previously understood.
Dr Cristina Dye, a lecturer in child language development, found that two to three- year-olds are using grammar far sooner than expected.
She studied fifty French speaking youngsters aged between 23 and 37 months, capturing tens of thousands of their utterances.
Dr Dye, who carried out the research while at Cornell University in the United States, found that the children were using ‘little words’ which form the skeleton of sentences such as a, an, can, is, an, far sooner than previously thought.
Dr Dye and her team used advanced recording technology including highly sensitive microphones placed close to the children, to capture the precise sounds the children voiced. They spent years painstakingly analysing every minute sound made by the toddlers and the context in which it was produced.
They found a clear, yet previously undetected, pattern of sounds and puffs of air, which consistently replaced grammatical words in many of the children’s utterances.
Dr Dye said: “Many of the toddlers we studied made a small sound, a soft breath, or a pause, at exactly the place that a grammatical word would normally be uttered.”
“The fact that this sound was always produced in the correct place in the sentence leads us to believe that young children are knowledgeable of grammatical words. They are far more sophisticated in their grammatical competence than we ever understood.
“Despite the fact the toddlers we studied were acquiring French, our findings are expected to extend to other languages. I believe we should give toddlers more credit – they’re much more amazing than we realised.”
For decades the prevailing view among developmental specialists has been that children’s early word combinations are devoid of grammatical words. On this view, children then undergo a ‘tadpole to frog’ transformation where due to an unknown mechanism, they start to develop grammar in their speech. Dye’s results now challenge the old view.
Dr Dye said: “The research sheds light on a really important part of a child’s development. Language is one of the things that makes us human and understanding how we acquire it shows just how amazing children are.
“There are also implications for understanding language delay in children. When children don’t learn to speak normally it can lead to serious issues later in life. For example, those who have it are more likely to suffer from mental illness or be unemployed later in life. If we can understand what is ‘normal’ as early as possible then we can intervene sooner to help those children.”
The research was originally published in the Journal of Linguistics.
TAU researcher develops a protein to protect and restore nerve cell communications
A structure called “the microtubule network” is a crucial part of our nervous system. It acts as a transportation system within nerve cells, carrying essential proteins and enabling cell-to-cell communications. But in neurodegenerative diseases like Alzheimer’s, ALS, and Parkinson’s, this network breaks down, hindering motor abilities and cognitive function.
Now Prof. Illana Gozes of Tel Aviv University’s Sackler Faculty of Medicine has developed a new peptide in her lab, called NAP or Davunetide, that has the capacity to both protect and restore microtubule function. The peptide is a compound derived from the protein ADNP, which regulates more than 400 genes and is essential for brain formation, memory, and behavior.
Prof. Gozes and her team of researchers, including Dr. Yan Jouroukhin and graduate student Regin Ostritsky of TAU, observed that in animal models with microtubule damage, NAP was able to maintain or revive the transport of proteins and other materials in cells, ameliorating symptoms associated with neurodegeneration. These findings, which were reported in the journal Neurobiology of Disease, indicate that NAP could be an effective tool in fighting some of the most debilitating effects of neurodegenerative diseases.
Prof. Gozes is the director of TAU’s Adams Super Center for Brain Studies and holds the Lily and Avraham Gildor Chair for the Investigation of Growth Factors.
Securing passage through the brain
In their investigation, the researchers used two different animal models with microtubule damage. The first group was made up of normal mice whose microtubule system was broken down through the use of a compound. The second group were genetically-engineered mouse models of ALS, in which the microtubule system was chronically damaged. In both groups, half the mice were given a single NAP injection, while the control half were not.
To determine the impact of NAP on nerve cell communications, the researchers administered the chemical element manganese to all animal models and tracked its movement through the brain using an MRI. In the mice treated with NAP, researchers observed that the manganese was able to travel through the brain normally — the microtubule system had been protected from damage or restored to normal use. Those mice that did not receive the peptide experienced the usual breakdown or continued dysfunction of the microtubule system.
These findings were corroborated by a subsequent study conducted in the UK, published in the journal Molecular Psychiatry, which found that NAP was able to ameliorate damage in fruit fly models of microtubule deficiency, repairing nerve cell dysfunction.
Slowing down cognitive dysfunction
NAP appears to have widespread potential in terms of neuroprotection, says Prof. Gozes, who was recently awarded the Meitner-Humblodt Research Award for her lifelong contribution to the field of brain sciences.
Previous studies on the peptide, conducted through a collaboration between Allon Therapeutics and Ramot, TAU’s technology transfer arm, have shown that patients suffering from cognitive dysfunction — a precursor to Alzheimer’s Disease — showed significant improvements in their cognitive scores when treated with NAP. Additional studies have also shown that NAP has a positive impact on rectifying microtubule deficiencies in schizophrenia patients.
Prof. Gozes notes that more research must be conducted to discover how to optimize the use of NAP as a treatment, including which patients can benefit most from the intervention.
By SaharaReporters, New York
A bomb found in Kaduna town this afternoon caused panic and pandemonium in the city.
Security men said they found following reports, by passers-by, of a suspicion package at a busy road intersection.
It’s not just the brogrammers. Silicon Valley’s gender imbalance starts at the top. Data collected by Catherine Bracey, who used to run the Obama campaign’s San Francisco tech office, shows that 89% of the executive teams at companies that got seed funding in the first half of 2010 were all male.
And America’s tech hub isn’t doing much better when it comes to race: The dudely founders of these companies were 82% white. Fewer than 1% were black or Hispanic.