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Beyond the realm of noun and verb: the cognitive lexicon of the young child

By Christophe Parisse and Marie-Thérèse Le Normand


Most studies of early lexical development are focused on the acquisition of the noun or verb categories. Only studies targeting the very beginning of word production describe the rich pattern of reference and expressive words produced by very young children. Still, during their second year, children’s production in tokens contains as many words that are not nouns and verbs than words that are. The importance of categories such as communicators, adverbs, pointers and adjectives never decreases, neither in English nor in French children between the age of 1;6 to 2;6. A cross-linguistic comparison shows that the same type of words is the most frequent in English and French children, while a comparison with adult production shows that, in neither language, do the words produced by children match exactly the words they hear most frequently. The difference in the syntactic structure of English and French argues strongly for a cognitive origin to this close match of the children’s words. These words other than nouns and verbs are more complex than they appear, because they cover a whole range of reference principles – direct reference, indirect reference, shared reference, generic reference, multiple reference, ambiguity, similarity, repetition, absence of –, as well as a wide range of expressive meanings. This type of words appears and grows throughout the children’s second year and provides the basic stones for further lexicon and syntax development

Topics: Cognitive Psychology, Developmental Psychology, Semantics
Year: 2000
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