Open Access Peer-reviewed Review

Empirical research in early infancy language acquisition: A nonsystematic review of literature

Main Article Content

Jing An corresponding author


This paper unsystematically reviewed the journal publications written in English in the period from 2010 to 2020 on the topic of early infancy language acquisition. The review was through two aspects: language comprehension, and language production. Additionally, this paper also reviewed several frequently used and new research methods and tools. For early infancy language comprehension, empirical studies found evidences on infants’ comprehension of words’ meaning through sounds, especially the comprehension of nouns, the latter was proven to have relevance with nouns’ familiarity and cross-word relations in the nouns. Besides, empirical studies found evidences on infants’ distinguishment between concrete words and abstract concepts. An important factor to influence infancy language comprehension is the social environment that the baby was exposed to, mainly the mother’s speech and her daily life routine (for example, her work). For early infancy language production, empirical studies found evidences on infants’ ability to associate similar sounds with different objects, and measurement for infants’ language outputs were brought forward in another empirical study. Empirical studies also found infants’ language outputs match to words and objects from the environment. Lastly, this paper reviewed the most frequently used technical methods: fMRI and fNIRS technology for investigating neural mechanisms of infancy language processing. There are other new research methods, include large-sample database analysis and quantitative modeling, corpus analysis, language inputs sampling, language model for infancy language acquisition.

Infancy, language acquisition, language model

Article Details

How to Cite
An, J. (2024). Empirical research in early infancy language acquisition: A nonsystematic review of literature. Advances in Developmental and Educational Psychology, 5(1), 175-184.


  1. Adriaans, F., & Swingley, D. (2017). Prosodic exaggeration within infant-directed speech: Consequences for vowel learnability. The Journal of the Acoustical Society of America, 141(5), 3070–3078.
  2. Arimitsu, T., Uchida-Ota, M., Yagihashi, T., Kojima, S., Watanabe, S., Hokuto, I., Ikeda, K., Takahashi, T., & Minagawa-Kawai, Y. (2011). Functional Hemispheric Specialization in Processing Phonemic and Prosodic Auditory Changes in Neonates. Frontiers in Psychology, 2.
  3. Aslin, R. N., Shukla, M., & Emberson, L. L. (2015). Hemodynamic Correlates of Cognition in Human Infants. Annual Review of Psychology, 66(1), 349–379.
  4. Bergelson, E., Amatuni, A., Dailey, S., Koorathota, S., & Tor, S. (2018). Day by day, hour by hour: Naturalistic language input to infants. Developmental Science, 22(1). Portico.
  5. Bergelson, E., & Aslin, R. (2017). Semantic Specificity in One-Year-Olds’ Word Comprehension. Language Learning and Development, 13(4), 481–501.
  6. Bergelson, E., & Aslin, R. N. (2017). Nature and origins of the lexicon in 6-mo-olds. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 114(49), 12916–12921.
  7. Bergelson, E., & Swingley, D. (2012). At 6–9 months, human infants know the meanings of many common nouns. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 109(9), 3253–3258.
  8. Bergelson, E., & Swingley, D. (2013). The acquisition of abstract words by young infants. Cognition, 127(3), 391–397.
  9. Bergelson, E., & Swingley, D. (2014). Early Word Comprehension in Infants: Replication and Extension. Language Learning and Development, 11(4), 369–380.
  10. Bergelson, E., & Swingley, D. (2017). Young Infants’ Word Comprehension Given An Unfamiliar Talker or Altered Pronunciations. Child Development, 89(5), 1567–1576. Portico.
  11. Benavides-Varela, S., Gómez, D. M., & Mehler, J. (2011). Studying Neonates’ Language and Memory Capacities with Functional Near-Infrared Spectroscopy. Frontiers in Psychology, 2.
  12. Benavides-Varela, S., Hochmann, J.-R., Macagno, F., Nespor, M., & Mehler, J. (2012). Newborn’s brain activity signals the origin of word memories. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 109(44), 17908–17913.
  13. Bortfeld, H., Fava, E., & Boas, D. A. (2009). Identifying Cortical Lateralization of Speech Processing in Infants Using Near-Infrared Spectroscopy. Developmental Neuropsychology, 34(1), 52–65.
  14. Brent, M. R., & Siskind, J. M. (2001). The role of exposure to isolated words in early vocabulary development. Cognition, 81(2), B33–B44.
  15. Blaser, E., & Kaldy, Z. (2010). Infants Get Five Stars on Iconic Memory Tests. Psychological Science, 21(11), 1643–1645.
  16. Buerkin-Pontrelli, A., Coffey, J., & Swingley, D. (2018). Outputs as inputs: Sequential Models of the Products of Infant 'Statistical Learning' of Language. Paper presented at the CogSci.
  17. Dehaene-Lambertz, G., Dehaene, S., & Hertz-Pannier, L. (2002). Functional Neuroimaging of Speech Perception in Infants. Science, 298(5600), 2013–2015.
  18. Garrison, H., Baudet, G., Breitfeld, E., Aberman, A., & Bergelson, E. (2020). Familiarity plays a small role in noun comprehension at 12–18 months. Infancy, 25(4), 458–477. Portico.
  19. Gervain, J., Macagno, F., Cogoi, S., Peña, M., & Mehler, J. (2008). The neonate brain detects speech structure. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 105(37), 14222–14227.
  20. Gervain, J., Berent, I., & Werker, J. F. (2012). Binding at Birth: The Newborn Brain Detects Identity Relations and Sequential Position in Speech. Journal of Cognitive Neuroscience, 24(3), 564–574.
  21. Gerken, L. A., Dawson, C., Chatila, R., & Tenenbaum, J. (2015). Surprise! infants consider possible bases of generalization for a single input example. Developmental Science, 18(1), 80.
  22. Gómez, R. L. (2002). Variability and Detection of Invariant Structure. Psychological Science, 13(5), 431–436.
  23. Laing, C., & Bergelson, E. (2020). From babble to words: Infants’ early productions match words and objects in their environment. Cognitive Psychology, 122, 101308.
  24. Laing, C., & Bergelson, E. (2018). Mothers’ Work Status and 17‐Month‐Olds’ Productive Vocabulary. Infancy, 24(1), 101–109. Portico.
  25. Mahmoudzadeh, M., Dehaene-Lambertz, G., Fournier, M., Kongolo, G., Goudjil, S., Dubois, J., Grebe, R., & Wallois, F. (2013). Syllabic discrimination in premature human infants prior to complete formation of cortical layers. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 110(12), 4846–4851.
  26. Marchetto, E., & Bonatti, L. L. (2013). Words and possible words in early language acquisition. Cognitive Psychology, 67(3), 130–150.
  27. Marcus, G. F., Vijayan, S., Bandi Rao, S., & Vishton, P. M. (1999). Rule Learning by Seven-Month-Old Infants. Science, 283(5398), 77–80.
  28. Nakano, T., Homae, F., Watanabe, H., & Taga, G. (2008). Anticipatory Cortical Activation Precedes Auditory Events in Sleeping Infants. PLoS ONE, 3(12), e3912.
  29. Nakano, T., Watanabe, H., Homae, F., & Taga, G. (2008). Prefrontal Cortical Involvement in Young Infants’ Analysis of Novelty. Cerebral Cortex, 19(2), 455–463.
  30. Peña, M., Maki, A., Kovacić, D., Dehaene-Lambertz, G., Koizumi, H., Bouquet, F., & Mehler, J. (2003). Sounds and silence: An optical topography study of language recognition at birth. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 100(20), 11702–11705.
  31. Poeppel, D. (2003). The analysis of speech in different temporal integration windows: cerebral lateralization as ‘asymmetric sampling in time.’ Speech Communication, 41(1), 245–255.
  32. Redcay, E., Haist, F., & Courchesne, E. (2008). Functional neuroimaging of speech perception during a pivotal period in language acquisition. Developmental Science, 11(2), 237–252. Portico.
  33. Ross-sheehy, S., Oakes, L. M., & Luck, S. J. (2003). The Development of Visual Short‐Term Memory Capacity in Infants. Child Development, 74(6), 1807–1822. Portico.
  34. Swingley, D., & Alarcon, C. (2018). Lexical Learning May Contribute to Phonetic Learning in Infants: A Corpus Analysis of Maternal Spanish. Cognitive Science, 42(5), 1618–1641. Portico.
  35. Swingley, D., & Humphrey, C. (2017). Quantitative Linguistic Predictors of Infants’ Learning of Specific English Words. Child Development, 89(4), 1247–1267. Portico.
  36. Telkemeyer, S., Rossi, S., Koch, S. P., Nierhaus, T., Steinbrink, J., Poeppel, D., Obrig, H., & Wartenburger, I. (2009). Sensitivity of Newborn Auditory Cortex to the Temporal Structure of Sounds. The Journal of Neuroscience, 29(47), 14726–14733.
  37. Telkemeyer, S., Rossi, S., Nierhaus, T., Steinbrink, J., Obrig, H., & Wartenburger, I. (2011). Acoustic Processing of Temporally Modulated Sounds in Infants: Evidence from a Combined Near-Infrared Spectroscopy and EEG Study. Frontiers in Psychology, 1.
  38. Yoshida, K. A., Fennell, C. T., Swingley, D., & Werker, J. F. (2009). Fourteen-month-old infants learn similar‐sounding words. Developmental Science, 12(3), 412–418. Portico.