Toddlers, as young as two years, can comprehend complex grammar even though they are unable to speak in full sentences, a new study has found.

Researchers at the University of Liverpool’s Child Language Study Centre found that two-year-olds are able to understand grammatical construction and use it to make sense of what they hear even though they rarely combine more than two words together while speaking.

“Studies have suggested that children between the ages of two and three start to build their understanding of grammar gradually from watching and listening to people,” study author Caroline Rowland said.

“More recent research, however, has suggested that even at 21 months, infants are sensitive to the different meanings produced by particular grammatical construction, even if they can’t articulate words properly,” she was quoted as saying by LiveScience.

For their study, Rowland and her colleagues showed a group of two-year-olds pictures of a cartoon rabbit and duck and asked each toddler to match the illustrations to sentences containing made-up verbs.

“One picture was the rabbit acting on the duck, lifting the duck’s leg, and the other was an image of the animals acting independently, such as swinging a leg,” Rowland said.

“We then played sentences with made-up verbs — the rabbit is glorping the duck — over a loudspeaker and asked them to point to the correct picture. They picked out the correct image more often than we would expect them to by chance.”

The findings, published in the journal Cognitive Science, suggest that a child’s language doesn’t necessarily reflect their full knowledge of language and grammar, the researchers said.

Keywords: human science

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