Resources: Deb Roy’s The birth of a word | Video on

Deb Roy, an MIT researcher, wired his own home to study the language acquisition patterns of his son.  He recorded 8-10 hours a day for 3 years, amassing 90,000 hours of video and 140,000 hours of audio.

His talk at the TED demonstrates the acquisition process of the word water, in what he calls the blossoming of the word.  In addition to data about the order of the word acquisition by the child, this project documents how the caregivers are using the words.  Roy says the data show that caregivers are systematically and subconsciously restructuring the language around the time of word acquisition.  As he says, the child isn’t just learning from the environment, “the environment is learning from him.”

Roy and his research team are also analyzing the video data from this project, examining where words are most likely to be used and how that relates to the acquisition process.

In a different, but related process, he is also collecting data on how different word usage patterns reflect TV and social media experiences.

Deb Roy: The birth of a word | Video on


About LingEducator

Dr. Jaclyn Ocumpaugh received a PhD for her dissertation on regional variation in the acoustics of Mexican American English (Michigan State University, East Lansing). Before that, she received an MA in English/Linguistics from North Carolina State University for her work on the acoustics of /r/--a sound which is highly variable in the English language. Her passion, however, has always been to understand the social implications of language variation. In addition to her work in acoustic sociophonetics, she has worked with rape trial analysis, developed cognitive methods for understanding discourse level variation between men and women, and created sophisticated tools for teaching future educators about the kinds of dialect variation they will find in the classroom. She has taught classes in English, Linguistics, and Education at Old Dominion University, William & Mary, the University of Mary Washington, and Virginia Wesleyan College. She is currently a Post Doctoral Fellow of Learning Sciences and Technologies at Worcester Polytechnic Institute, where she is helping to develop models of student engagement in the classroom. She also consults in the private sector.
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