Whorfian potential in child language

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Abstract

As toddlers begin the language acquisition process, event memory and the capacity for dead-reckoning are developing in the cognitive domain, providing the potential to think about the relative location of events in time and objects in space. While the language they happen to be learning varies in structure, every language has a way of coding the location of events / objects in time / space. We can think of the toddler as a code breaker who arrives at the acquisition problem with a set of language information processing abilities. Depending how temporal and / or spatial location is coded in the language, it will make the toddler’s code-breaking problem more or less difficult, providing the potential to facilitate acquisition. Benjamin Whorf argued that the structure of a child’s language influences the course of conceptual development within the realms of temporal and spatial thinking. If the structure of a particular language matches the toddler’s processing capacities in either the temporal or spatial domain, then the resulting precocious acquisition in that domain provides the potential to influence conceptual development. This paper investigates such a potential in child language, i.e., a developmental Whorfian hypothesis.

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