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From sound to syntax: phonological constraints on children's lexical categorization of new words*

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  24 December 2008

Queen's University
Cornell University
University of York
Address for correspondence: Stanka A. Fitneva, Department of Psychology, Queen's University, Kingston, Ontario K7L 3N6, Canada. e-mail:


Two studies examined the role of phonological cues in the lexical categorization of new words when children could also rely on learning by exclusion and whether the role of phonology depends on extensive experience with a language. Phonological cues were assessed via phonological typicality – an aggregate measure of the relationship between the phonology of a word and the phonology of words in the same lexical class. Experiment 1 showed that when monolingual English-speaking seven-year-olds could rely on learning by exclusion, phonological typicality only affected their initial inferences about the words. Consistent with recent computational analyses, phonological cues had stronger impact on the processing of verb-like than noun-like items. Experiment 2 revealed an impact of French on the performance of seven-year-olds in French immersion when tested in a French language environment. Thus, phonological knowledge may affect lexical categorization even in the absence of extensive experience.

Copyright © 2008 Cambridge University Press

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The research was supported by grant RGP0177/2001-B from the Human Frontiers Science Foundation to MHC. We thank Kristen Dunfield, Tobias Stier and Gabrielle Cole for help with data collection and Nick Chater and Lesly Wade-Woolley for their perceptive comments.



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