202401 Advancement and Innovation in Measurement of Language Development and Predictors

​Program seeks Council approval for an initiative titled “Advancement and Innovation inMeasurement of Language Development and Predictors.”  For the past three decades, a predominant paradigm in the field of language development research has been exploration and amelioration of the “30 million word gap”, the phenomenon that children from families with lower socioeconomic status (SES) are exposed to millions fewer words in the first few years of life as compared to their higher SES peers. The field is now reckoning with the fact that this paradigm has narrowed the scope of what is considered an optimal language environment and has shaped how both the language environment and children’s language development are measured and described. There is recognition that research and dialogue around the word gaphas negative consequences for parents, caregivers, and children from lower SES backgrounds, framed as lacking compared to those from higher SES backgrounds. There is also a recognized need to better understand average developmental milestones and experiences for children being raised bilingual and bidialectical, a related issue given the intersection in the US of SES with other minoritized identities such as race, ethnicity, multilingualism, bidialectalism.

Technological advances, particularly in the form of wearable devices, are providing new opportunities to measure real-world interactions between caregivers and children in vivo and are building significant momentum in the field. However, these tools may perpetuate an overemphasis on quantity of input as the most important factor– a conclusion already being refuted in the literature. Anecdotally, reviewers are becoming more discerning in questioning how these tools are being used and the fit with the research questions. Yet, there exist few, if any, better alternatives.

For new paradigms and perspectives to take hold in the field today, new ways of conceptualizing and describing both the language environment and language development are needed. The purpose of this initiative is to promote researchers to broaden the conceptualization of qualities of caregiver–child interactions that can support language development in children and to prioritize the development of novel ways of measuring both the language environment and children’s language development.

This proposed concept aligns with the NICHD Strategic Plan Theme 4: Improving Childand Adolescent Health and the Transition to Adulthood and Strategic Plan Cross-Cutting Topic: Health Disparities, and aligns with ongoing efforts at NICHD and across NIH to support shifting perspectives in the research wesupport, including both the UNITE and STRIVE initiatives.

This proposed concept aligns with the CDBB research priorities to 1) explore how individual differences in development are affected by environmental influences; 2) leverage technological advances in interdisciplinary studies using multi-level assessments of neurodevelopment; and 3) understand social determinants of health to mitigate health disparities.

Program Contact

Virginia Salo
Child Development and Behavior Branch (CDBB)

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