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Does Scottishness change language?

THEY are known as weans in Glaswegian, bairns in Geordie and babbies in the Black Country.

Now a new study could reveal if growing up in Scotland influences how a child's language develops.

Researchers are trying to establish whether where a child lives affects the acquisition of language, and build up a comprehensive picture of the typical words and gestures used by babies and toddlers in the various parts of the UK for the first time.

The aim is to establish the norms of language development for children aged between eight to 18 months. Until now, standardised methods to assess linguistic ability at an early age have all been based on American-English speakers.

Parents from different areas of the UK are being urged to participate in the study as the researchers believe there could be geographical variations in how language develops.

Study leader Dr Katie Alcock, of Lancaster University's centre for research in human development, said one aspect was that children would learn different words depending on where they lived.

She said that in terms of Scotland, researchers would be looking at the early acquisition of words such as "wee" instead of "little" and "aye" instead of "yes". She said: "Those are the kinds of things we need to make sure we are picking up on."

Alcock said the research could also reveal any cultural differences influencing language development in different parts of the UK.

"There was a really interesting study which was carried out comparing English-speaking kids in the US with children in Italy," she said. "Although they learned the same number of words by a certain age, the kids in Italy learned far more words for members of their family.

"We think that it is not because it is easier to say 'granny' and 'auntie' and so on in Italian, but due to the culture and the fact they see their relatives in a more tightly knit society. Whereas in the US we know that because it is a big country, families are often far-flung and don't see each other very much."

The £385,000, two-and-a-half-year UK study is asking parents to fill in a questionnaire on which words their child understands or says.

These range from being able to make simple noises such as "baa baa" to saying words such as "daddy" and whether they understand actions like "look" and descriptive words and short phrases such as "all gone".

The aim of the research is to pinpoint what the average child can do, which could assist GPs and health visitors in working out if a child is having problems learning to communicate.

Alcock said: "Children's first spoken words are really variable – some say their first words at nine or 10 months, others don't say them till they are 17 or 18 months – but it is the failure to understand words and use gestures that can be indicative of having a problem."

A spokeswoman for the Royal College of Speech and Language Therapists said: "Having an assessment tool that is standardised on a UK population may well be helpful in the assessment and intervention process for young children."

For more information on taking part in the study, visit the website: www.uk-cdi.ac.uk/

Contextual targeting label: 
Families

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