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

Before and after the vocabulary spurt: two modes of word acquisition? (pages 136-142)


This paper focuses on early lexical development, and especially the period around 18 months known as the vocabulary spurt. We first propose that this period corresponds to a shift from an associationist to a referential lexical acquisition mechanism following the developmental coupling of specific pre‐linguistic and cognitive abilities. This latter mechanism would allow the acquisition of genuine words, i.e. links between phonetically specified sound patterns and object categories. We then review the literature on early lexical acquisition by typically developing infants and infants with Down and Williams syndrome, and report some data that were recently collected on this issue. We conclude that the data so far are congruent with our proposal, but because they remain insufficient, we propose some future research that focuses on the relation between pre‐linguistic and cognitive developments.

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