Developmental Science

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Volume 6 Issue 2 (April 2003), Pages 119-231

The origins and evolution of links between word learning and conceptual organization: new evidence from 11‐month‐olds (pages 128-135)


How do infants map words to their meaning? How do they discover that different types of words (e.g. noun, adjective) refer to different aspects of the same objects (e.g. category, property)? We have proposed that (1) infants begin with a broad expectation that novel open‐class words (both nouns and adjectives) highlight commonalities (both category‐ and property‐based) among objects, and that (2) this initial expectation is subsequently fine‐tuned through linguistic experience. We examine the first part of this proposal, asking whether 11‐month‐old infants can construe the very same set of objects (e.g. four purple animals) either as members of an object category (e.g. animals) or as embodying a salient object property (e.g. four purple things), and whether naming (with count nouns vs. adjectives) differentially influences their construals. Results support the proposal. Infants treated novel nouns and adjectives identically, mapping both types of words to both category‐ and property‐based commonalities among objects.

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