• Question: Have you discovered anything? If so, what?

    Asked by IzzyandIndiandEllen to Catriona, Damien, Hannah, James, Jason, Nayeli, Sarah, Sophie, Zaf on 30 Jan 2018.
    • Photo: Nayeli Gonzalez-Gomez

      Nayeli Gonzalez-Gomez answered on 30 Jan 2018:

      Thank you for your question. I have found that babies start by learning the rhythmic properties of their language, such as stress patterns and intonation, then they learn the repertoire of sounds that their language uses. Then, babies learn the rules applying to those sounds, for example, which sounds can be combined together and which ones can’t. I also found that all these knowledge will help them, later on, to find and learn new words.
      Finding what is and what is not a word might seem trivial; however, we found that this is a very challenging task, since there are no pauses between words when we speak. For example, have a look at this video:

      Just try to tell how many words is the tv presenter saying,
      That’s very hard, right? And we are not even trying to identify the words, just to count them.
      Although, we know now lots of things about how babies start learning there are still many more that we do not know, for example why some babies learn quicker than others? how bilingual babies manage to learn multiple languages at the same time? what are the mechanisms underlying language development?… …. ….

    • Photo: Sarah Knight

      Sarah Knight answered on 30 Jan 2018:

      Good question! It depends what you mean by “discover”. Although some scientists make big discoveries on their own, in psychology it’s often the case that lots of individual studies by different groups of scientists produce similar results, and taken together all of these results suggest that something might be true. For example, a colleague and I recently conducted a study looking at how older people (over the age of 60) listen to speech in a noisy room — something that older people often find tricky. We found that they need to use cognitive (mental) skills (such as memory) as well as hearing skills to understand what’s being said — but that the type of cognitive skills they use depends on how noisy it is, how complicated the speech is that they’re listening to, how good their hearing is, and other things too. But we only conducted this study with 50 people, and there might have been things about our study that mean that these results aren’t true for everyone. So we need other people to carry out similar studies in other places before we can say that we have really discovered something that applies to people in general!

    • Photo: Damien Hall

      Damien Hall answered on 31 Jan 2018:

      The other thing about discoveries in science is that (a bit like what Sarah said) even within work by one person, you often discover something gradually, not all at once. So my work is about linguistics (the science of how language works). I study in particular the accents of towns in Northern France (Paris, Strasbourg, Rouen and so on). Most linguists think that there are not very many differences between the accents of those cities (unlike the South of France–they’re all very different from that). I think I have discovered that there are more differences between Northern French accents than many people think! But I only have a little bit of data about it so far. I need to analyse more of my recorded interviews so that I can be more sure that this really is a discovery.