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Seminar: Communicative development in a Mayan village - Marisa Casillas, 23 Sept

Australian National University, Processing

Date: 7 July 2016

When: 11am-12.30pm, Fri 23 Sept

Where: Engma Room (5019), HC Coombs Building, ANU


Most of our knowledge about child-caregiver interaction comes from Western middle-class homes, despite the fact that caregiver interactional styles vary widely across cultures. Ethnographic reports of Mayan caregiver-infant interaction emphasize the mother's role as one of keeping her infant calm. In other words, Western-style face-to-face verbal episodes are relatively rare (Brown, 2011, 2014; Gaskins, 2006). Nevertheless, Mayan children attain normal linguistic competence as adults. Language development in Mayan (and other similarly interacting) communities stands as an important challenge to mainstream developmental theory, which has put much stock in children’s early verbal interactions with their caregivers. To address this challenge, I collected day-long natural speech recordings and linguistic experimental data from 55 children under age five in one Tzeltal Mayan village. With these data, I will track children’s early language experience and development over the first few years of life. I present some initial findings and discuss their relevance for mainstream developmental theory.

Marisa's primary research examines the relationship between conversational turn-taking and linguistic processing in children and adults. She uses a combination of experimental- and observation- based methods in an attempt to investigate these linguistic processes in the most natural settings possible. One of her goals is to disentangle conversational skills from linguistic skills during language acquisition so that we can better understand how children become active agents in their own language learning. She also is more broadly interested in exploring how cognitive and social processes shape the ways in which we learn, perceive, and produce language. For that reason, she maintains an ever-growing interest cognitive models of language. Marisa received her PhD in Linguistics from Stanford University in 2013 and is currently a postdoctoral researcher working on the Interactional Foundations of Language project with the Max Planck Institute for Psycholinguistics.

  • Australian Government
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  • Australian National University
  • The University of Melbourne
  • Western Sydney University