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The effects of linguistic experience on the flexible use of mutual exclusivity in word learning*



Mutual Exclusivity (ME) is a prominent constraint in language acquisition, which guides children to establish one-to-one mappings between words and referents. But how does unfolding experience of multiple-to-one word-meaning mappings in bilingual children's environment affect their understanding of when to use ME and when to accept lexical overlap? Three-to-five-year-old monolingual and simultaneous bilingual children completed two pragmatically distinct tasks, where successful word learning relied on either the default use of ME or the ability to accept overlapping labels. All children could flexibly use ME by following the social-pragmatic directions available in each task. However, linguistic experience shaped the development of ME use, whereby older monolinguals showed a greater reliance on the one-to-one mapping assumption, but older bilinguals showed a greater ability to accept lexical overlap. We suggest that flexible use of ME is thus shaped by pragmatic information present in each communicative interaction and children's individual linguistic experience.


Corresponding author

Address for correspondence: Marina Kalashnikova, The MARCS Institute, University of Western Sydney, Locked Bag 1797, Penrith, 2751, Sydney, NSW, Australia


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We would like to thank two anonymous reviewers for their valuable feedback on the earlier versions of this manuscript. We are also grateful to the children, parents, and schools who participated in this research.



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