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Friday, September 29, 2017

Review: The Scientist in the Crib

I had heard about The Scientist in the Crib years ago on NPR, but upon checking it out from the library was surprised to find that it's a 2009 book, which meant that I'd most likely read about its topics elsewhere. Indeed, it took until the middle of the book before I found a passage that finally sold me on the book:
Some children, though, especially younger siblings, take quite a different route toward grammar. Rather than starting out with a bunch of individual words and gradually combining them into more complex sentences, these babies seem to take the opposite approach. They seem to get hold of whole sentences and then take them apart into separate words. They start out by grasping the intonation patterns of whole adult sentences, and they babble in a way that mimics those intonation patterns. Often it sounds as if they're quite fluent in a language their parents just don't happen to know, like Klingon or Vulcan. (pg. 118, Harper-Collins paperback edition)
Wow, that completely described Boen! It's a piece of insight and research that I hadn't encountered anywhere else, and would have been useful to know 6 months ago.

The rest of the book put together the thesis behind various developmental stages of a child: why the terrible twos are so terrible: the kid's experimenting on you, to see what reactions you'll have towards the things he/she does.

In many places, the book could use an update: our machine intelligence and machine learning algorithms have gotten a lot better since 2009, as have our speech recognition algorithms, though they're not perfect (but neither are many human's). It's also great to read the insight the authors have about how and why children were not considered worthy of research and study until recently. It's because academia has not until recently allowed women into their halls, and no one thought babies and infants worthy of studies until women entered the field and the introduction of video cameras made it so that no one could deny the evidence!

The book comes recommended and I wish I'd read it a couple of years earlier.

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