Linguistic and conceptual development converge crucially in the process of early word learning. Acquiring a new word requires the child to identify a conceptual unit, identify a linguistic unit, and establish a mapping between them. On the conceptual side, the child has to not only identify the relevant part of the scene being labeled, but also isolate a concept at the correct level of abstraction—the word ‘dog’ must be mapped to the concept dog and not to the concepts petting or collie, for example. On the linguistic side, the child must use the syntactic context in which the word appears to determine its grammatical category (e.g., noun, verb, adjective). But she also uses syntactic information, along with observation of the world and social-communicative cues, to make guesses at which concept the word picks out as well as its level of abstraction. We present evidence that young learners learn new words rapidly and extend them appropriately. However, the relative import of observational and linguistic cues varies as a function of the kind of word being acquired, with verbs requiring a richer set of conceptual and linguistic cues than nouns. Copyright © 2010 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.
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