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Children's level of word knowledge predicts their exclusion of familiar objects as referents of novel words

By Susanne eGrassmann, Susanne eGrassmann, Cornelia eSchulze, Cornelia eSchulze and Michael eTomasello


When children are learning a novel object label, they tend to exclude as possible referents familiar objects for which they already have a name. In the current study, we wanted to know if children would behave in this same way regardless of how well they knew the name of potential referent objects, specifically, whether they could only comprehend it or they could both comprehend and produce it. Sixty-six monolingual German-speaking 2-, 3-, and 4-year-old children participated in two experimental sessions. In one session the familiar objects were chosen such that their labels were in the children's productive vocabularies, and in the other session the familiar objects were chosen such that their labels were only in the children's receptive vocabularies. Results indicated that children at all three ages were more likely to exclude a familiar object as the potential referent of the novel word if they could comprehend and produce its name rather than comprehend its name only. Indeed, level of word knowledge as operationalized in this way was a better predictor than was age. These results are discussed in the context of current theories of word learning by exclusion

Topics: Comprehension, word learning, production, mutual exclusivity, Word knowledge, Principle of contrast, Psychology, BF1-990
Publisher: Frontiers Media S.A.
Year: 2015
DOI identifier: 10.3389/fpsyg.2015.01200
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