The phonological skills of Māori speaking four year olds: a pilot study

Project purpose: The project is a pilot for a larger project tracking phonological development (speech skills) in Māori for Māori speaking pre-school children. Although there is a substantial body of literature on how children develop speech sounds in English we know nothing about the developmental trajectory in Māori.

This pilot will give us the information to formulate questions for future Māori research in the areas of linguistics, communication disorders and bilingualism. This research will have implications for both education and health outcomes as it may provide us with information on how to tailor assessment and measure language in children with typical and atypical language development.

One purpose of the project then is to contribute to knowledge about language acquisition in Māori children. The project however serves a second equally important purpose; this is to build up Māori research capability in a discipline where there are currently few Māori researchers. It is the Senior Researcher’s hope that the pilot will also serve as a springboard for Māori students to choose to develop research careers in this area.

The programme of work to be carried out: This project has the potential to be offered to more than one applicant as the larger the sample the more reliable and valid findings will be. Intern(s) will be required to work together with Senior Researcher on the following tasks:

  1. Designing a picture naming task based on the consonants and vowels of Māori
  2. Building relationships in kōhanga reo for the recruitment of participants for the study. Currently the Senior Researcher has contacts with two kōhanga reo on the North Shore (Birkdale and Mairangi Bay) but is happy to allow intern(s) to use their own any pre-existing contacts with kōhanga reo
  3. Collecting data at kōhanga reo. This involves building rapport with participants and recording their responses to the picture naming task
  4. Transcribing the children's utterances
  5. Organising data into an Excel spreadsheet
  6. Working together with the Senior Researcher on an initial analysis g) Writing up of initial results.

Day to day nature of the work: Given the programme outlined above intern(s) are expected to spend the first three weeks of the internship at Tamaki Campus working on the picture naming task, learning transcription and data collection techniques with the Senior Researcher and familiarising themselves with the literature on language acquisition.

The next three weeks will be spent at kōhanga reo. Here intern(s) will meet staff and parents to discuss the project. They will be responsible for recruiting participants to the project. They will be expected then to spend time establishing rapport with children who have been recruited before assessing and recording. The remaining four weeks of the internship will be spent listening to the recordings, transcribing the children's utterances and entering the data into a spreadsheet.

Under the Senior Researcher’s guidance, the intern(s) will make an initial analysis and write up their findings.

Skills the student will learn:

  1. How to structure a language assessment
  2. Linguistic foundation to how to analyse Māori phonology
  3. Transcription skills
  4. Data collection techniques specific to language projects (elicitation techniques, recording).
  5. Interpretation of data
  6. How to structure their findings for publication purposes.