Developmental Psychology, vol. 44, issue 4 (2008) pp. 929-938
Although there has been much debate over the content of children's first words, few large sample studies address this question for children at the very earliest stages of word learning. The authors report data from comparable samples of 265 English-, 336 Putonghua- (Mandarin), and 369 Cantonese-speaking 8- to 16-month-old infants whose caregivers completed MacArthur-Bates Communicative Development Inventories and reported them to produce between 1 and 10 words. Analyses of individual words indicated striking commonalities in the first words that children learn. However, substantive cross-linguistic differences appeared in the relative prevalence of common nouns, people terms, and verbs as well as in the probability that children produced even one of these word types when they had a total of 1-3, 4-6, or 7-10 words in their vocabularies. These data document cross-linguistic differences in the types of words produced even at the earliest stages of vocabulary learning and underscore the importance of parental input and cross-linguistic/cross-cultural variations in children's early word-learning.
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