DOI: 10.1111/cogs.13417 ISSN: 0364-0213

Lexical Alignment is Pervasive Across Contexts in Non‐WEIRD Adult–Child Interactions

Adriana Chee Jing Chieng, Camille J. Wynn, Tze Peng Wong, Tyson S Barrett, Stephanie A. Borrie
  • Artificial Intelligence
  • Cognitive Neuroscience
  • Experimental and Cognitive Psychology


Lexical alignment, a communication phenomenon where conversational partners adapt their word choices to become more similar, plays an important role in the development of language and social communication skills. While this has been studied extensively in the conversations of preschool‐aged children and their parents in Western, Educated, Industrialized, Rich, and Democratic (WEIRD) communities, research in other pediatric populations is sparse. This study makes significant expansions on the existing literature by focusing on alignment in naturalistic conversations of school‐aged children from a non‐WEIRD population across multiple conversational tasks and with different types of adult partners. Typically developing children aged 5 to 8 years (n = 45) engaged in four semi‐structured conversations that differed by task (problem‐solving vs. play‐based) and by partner (parent vs. university student), resulting in a corpus of 180 conversations. Lexical alignment scores were calculated and compared to sham conversations, representing alignment occurring at the level of chance. Both children and adults coordinated their conversational utterances by re‐using or aligning each other's word choices. This alignment behavior persisted across conversational tasks and partners, although the degree of alignment was moderated by the conversational context. These findings suggest that lexical alignment is a robust phenomenon in conversations between school‐age children and adults. Furthermore, this study extends lexical alignment findings to a non‐WEIRD culture, suggesting that alignment may be a coordination strategy employed by adults and children across diverse linguistic and cultural backgrounds.

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