EARLY MENTAL REPRESENTATION AND THE EMERGENCE OF LANGUAGE IN PRETERM AND FULLTERM INFANTS
LINARES, LOURDES ORIANA
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The relationship between early mental representation and language was approached by assessing object permanence, play, imitation, and the expressive language in preterm and fullterm infants.;The sample consisted of 7 preterm infants (mean = 1294 grams) matched on gestational age with 7 fullterm control infants. Both groups of infants belonged to ethnic minority families from low socioeconomic status. Monthly cognitive and language measures were taken between the ages of 12 and 17 months. Infants were videotaped in a hospital laboratory and observed systematically in their homes.;Although significant group mean differences were found in only about 10% of the nonverbal and language measures, consistent patterns of development emerged. While both groups performed similarly in the test of invisible displacement of objects and imitation tasks, preterm infants were found to lag behind fullterms in aspects of play and language. The play of preterm infants was characterized by a scattered organizational pattern in which more advanced play (i.e., relational, functional, and enactive naming), was observed along with less advanced play (i.e., mouthing, throwing and banging, and visual manipulation of objects). Symbolic play emerged later in the preterm group than in the fullterm group. The developmental lag in the symbolic play of preterm infants, as reflected by fewer pretend play episodes, was still present by the end of the study.;Language differences were also found between preterm and fullterm infants. While there were no group differences in the amount of vocalizations, preterm infants exhibited fewer social gestures (i.e., pointing), produced fewer words during play, and had smaller productive vocabularies at 15, 16, and 17 months.;This research provided support for a stage theory of development which hypothesizes parallel advancements among various domains of early representation. It was found that advances in object permanence corresponded to the onset of symbolic play. Likewise, advances in symbolic play were positively correlated to vocabulary increase.;Finally, this research provided descriptive data on the emergence of symbolic play and the semantic composition of the early vocabularies for low SES fullterm infants in their transition from prelinguistic to linguistic communication.