Speed of word recognition and vocabulary knowledge in infancy predict cognitive and language outcomes in later childhood

Dev Sci. 2008 May;11(3):F9-16. doi: 10.1111/j.1467-7687.2008.00671.x.


The nature of predictive relations between early language and later cognitive function is a fundamental question in research on human cognition. In a longitudinal study assessing speed of language processing in infancy, Fernald, Perfors and Marchman (2006) found that reaction time at 25 months was strongly related to lexical and grammatical development over the second year. In this follow-up study, children originally tested as infants were assessed at 8 years on standardized tests of language, cognition, and working memory. Speed of spoken word recognition and vocabulary size at 25 months each accounted for unique variance in linguistic and cognitive skills at 8 years, effects that were attributable to strong relations between both infancy measures and working memory. These findings suggest that processing speed and early language skills are fundamental to intellectual functioning, and that language development is guided by learning and representational principles shared across cognitive and linguistic domains.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural

MeSH terms

  • Child
  • Child Development
  • Cognition*
  • Humans
  • Infant
  • Language Development*
  • Memory*
  • Verbal Learning*
  • Vocabulary*