British Columbia

Preschool prattle: UVic to study how young children absorb language

A University of Victoria researcher is beginning a five year project she hopes will fill a gap in the way we understand how children absorb language.

'I want to know when exactly it is and then how it is that kids start moving changes forward,' says reseacher

A new, five-year University of Victoria study will look at who has the biggest influence on the development of language skills in children like these ones, and how that shifts as the age. (Stephanie Brown/CBC)

The University of Victoria is beginning a five year study that researchers hope will fill a gap in our understanding of how children absorb language.

Alexandra D'Arcy's project will look at who has the biggest influence on a child's language development, and how that shifts as they age.

"Language is always changing. It has to, that's how living language works," the linguistics professor told CBC's All Points West host Robyn Burns. "I want to know when exactly it is, and then how it is, that kids start moving changes forward."

Absorbing and influencing language

While children begin learning language at home, D'Arcy says soon afterward, they not only take on the language of their peers but also influence the language of those around them. 

"At some point kids have to say, 'That's enough with you, mom and dad, I want to sound like my friends,'" said D'Arcy. "They don't realize it consciously like that, but they start to realize that there's a bigger [linguistic] world out there, and they start to participate," 

As proof of her concept, D'Arcy points to studies on children who move away from a place where they've established their manner of speaking. After the move, they tend to quickly take on the language or diction used in their new location.

"So how does that happen?" she said. "We know it happens but we've never actually watched it to figure out what does that then mean for language change?"

Five years of language tracking

To find answers to those questions, researchers will spend half a decade following the language development of participating children, starting at the ages of three and four.

Child and parent alike will clip on a microphone for a total of eight hours over the course of two weeks, four times each year. Researchers will then monitor their language in everyday situations.

"We're going to work with them for five years solid to figure out how [their language is] moving and shifting," said D'Arcy.

The study is taking on subjects now. If you're interested in participating with your child, you can send an email to

With files from All Points West