Our new study, just published in Psychological Science, is getting a bit of press coverage now. The general finding was that interleaving ambient speech with reading picture books to young children introduces precious statistical variability that can potentially explain developmental phenomena as a function of the statistical environment (i.e., independent of maturation, per se). Read the press summary at Pacific Standard. Original paper:
Montag, J. L., Jones, M. N., & Smith, L. B. (2015). The words children hear: Picture books and the statistics for language learning. Psychological Science.
Update: OK, now our study has been mentioned in the New York Times! It is fantastic that the general public is taking notice of the importance of statistical diversity in early language learning, but most of the press coverage kind of skims over the important finding. It is true that children experience more unique word types when we read from books vs. the ambient speech environment--I mean, how could that not be true? Reading Dr. Seuss makes me say lots more weird words than I do when I'm cooking. The important point is that the diversity distribution has a very different shape in books vs. speech. Now this makes sense. When humans were able to offload memory to external symbolic devices (such as books), we loaded them with connections in the tail of the Zipf Distribution. When we read to kids, they don't need to know what the words mean. It introduces them to statistical connections that boost everything else they already know. This may well be the reason that we see many so-called developmental phenomena such as the "vocabulary burst"
This makes the point clearer with an artificial language experiment:
Jones, M. N., Johns, B. T., & Recchia, G. (2012). The role of semantic diversity in lexical organization.Canadian Journal of Experimental Psychology, 66, 121-132.