Can Children Notice Ambiguity in a Referential Communication Task: Differences Between Monolingual and Bilingual Children
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Previous work shows that children are able to perform referential communication tasks successfully but those under 7 years old tend to perform poorer (Bishop & Adams, 1991). On the other hand, adults are very good at referential tasks and especially being able to produce unambiguous labels in a non-linguistic ambiguity tasks (two pictures which are the same object but differ slightly, e.g. colour or size) (Ferreira et al, 2005). There are two possible theories behind why children struggle with producing clear speech. One is that they fail to monitor for ambiguity properly. Another theory is the executive function theory which suggests that children with better executive function will perform better on these tasks. Therefore, 42 five year olds completed a non-linguistic ambiguity task which asked them to name pictures, during which their eye gaze was tracked to test the monitoring hypothesis: 30 for the experimental condition where children had to name Elmo’s picture and 12 for a control condition were children had to indicate if there was another picture that was the same as Elmo’s. For the executive function theory, children completed an inhibition task (the head-toe-knee-shoulder task). Bilingual children have been shown to be better at inhibition tasks (Bialystok, 2009), therefore, both monolingual and bilingual children were examined to see whether being bilingual had an advantage in referential communication tasks. The results showed that inhibition was related to the ability to produce unambiguous labels. However, there was no effect of whether the child was monolingual or bilingual. The saccades from the experimental condition and control condition show that when children are asked to explicitly monitor for ambiguity, they can. Overall this suggests that both the monitoring and executive function theories can both explain why children are poorer at referential communication tasks.