Skip to main content Accessibility help

Developmental differences in the effects of phonological, lexical and semantic variables on word learning by infants*


The influence of phonological (i.e. individual sounds), lexical (i.e. whole-word forms) and semantic (i.e. meaning) characteristics on the words known by infants age 1 ; 4 to 2 ; 6 was examined, using an existing database (Dale & Fenson, 1996). For each noun, word frequency, two phonological (i.e. positional segment average, biphone average), two lexical (i.e. neighborhood density, word length) and four semantic variables (i.e. semantic set size, connectivity, probability resonance, resonance strength) were computed. Regression analyses showed that more infants knew (1) words composed of low-probability sounds and sound pairs, (2) shorter words with high neighborhood density, and (3) words that were semantically related to other words, both in terms of the number and strength of semantic connections. Moreover, the effect of phonological variables was constant across age, whereas the effect of lexical and semantic variables changed across age.

Corresponding author
Address for correspondence: Holly Storkel, PhD, Associate Professor, Department of Speech-Language-Hearing: Sciences and Disorders, University of Kansas, 3001 Dole Human Development Center, 1000 Sunnyside Avenue, Lawrence, KS 66045-7555. e-mail:
Hide All

This work was supported by the National Institutes of Health (DC08095; DC04781; DC005803; HD002528). David Slegers and Todd Little aided in the statistical analysis. Michael Vitevitch provided comments on an earlier version of this manuscript.

Hide All
Bailey, T. M. & Plunkett, K. (2002). Phonological specificity in early words. Cognitive Development 17, 1265–82.
Buchanan, L., Westbury, C. & Burgess, C. (2001). Characterizing semantic space: Neighborhood effects in word recognition. Psychonomic Bulletin and Review 8, 531–44.
Charles-Luce, J. & Luce, P. A. (1990). Similarity neighbourhoods of words in young children's lexicons. Journal of Child Language 17, 205215.
Coady, J. A. & Aslin, R. N. (2003). Phonological neighbourhoods in the developing lexicon. Journal of Child Language 30(2), 441–70.
Cohen, J. (1988). Statistical power analysis for the behavioral sciences, 2nd ed. Hillsdale, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates.
Dale, P. S. & Fenson, L. (1996). Lexical development norms for young children. Behavioral Research Methods, Instruments & Computers 28, 125–27.
Entwisle, D. R. (1966). Word associations of young children. Baltimore, MD: The John Hopkins Press.
Fenson, L., Dale, P. S., Reznick, J. S., Thal, D., Bates, E., Hartung, J. P., Pethick, S. & Reilly, J. S. (1993). The MacArthur Communicative Development Inventories: User's guide and technical manual. San Diego: Singular Publishing Group.
Gershkoff-Stowe, L. (2002). Object naming, vocabulary growth, and development of word retrieval abilities. Journal of Memory and Language 46, 665–87.
Gershkoff-Stowe, L. & Smith, L. B. (2004). Shape and the first hundred nouns. Child Development 75(4), 10981114.
Gierut, J. A. & Dale, R. A. (2007). Comparability of lexical corpora: Word frequency in phonological generalization. Clinical Linguistics & Phonetics 21(6), 423–33.
Gupta, P. & MacWhinney, B. (1997). Vocabulary acquisition and verbal short-term memory: Computational and neural bases. Brain and Language 59, 267333.
Hollich, G., Hirsh-Pasek, K., Golinkoff, R. M., Brand, R. J., Brown, E., Chung, H. L., Hennon, E. & Rocroi, C. (2000). Breaking the language barrier: An emergentist coalition model for the origins of word learning. Monographs of the Society for Research in Child Development 65, v123.
Hollich, G., Jusczyk, P. W. & Luce, P. A. (2002). Lexical neighborhood effects in 17-month-old word learning. In Skarabela, B., Fish, S. & Do, A. H.-J. (eds), Proceedings of the 26th annual Boston University Conference on Language Development, Vol. 1, 314–23. Sommerville, MA: Cascadilla.
Jusczyk, P. W., Goodman, M. B. & Baumann, A. (1999). Nine-month-olds' attention to sound similarities in syllables. Journal of Memory and Language 40, 6282.
Jusczyk, P. W., Luce, P. A. & Charles-Luce, J. (1994). Infants' sensitivity to phonotactic patterns in the native language. Journal of Memory and Language 33, 630–45.
Kucera, H. & Francis, W. N. (1967). Computational analysis of present-day American English. Providence, RI: Brown University.
Landauer, T. K. & Streeter, L. A. (1973). Structural differences between common and rare words: Failure of equivalence assumptions for theories of word recognition. Journal of Verbal Learning and Verbal Behavior 12, 119–31.
Leonard, L. B., Schwartz, R. G., Chapman, K., Rowan, L. E., Prelock, P. A., Terrell, B., Weiss, A. L. & Messick, C. (1982). Early lexical acquisition in children with specific language impairment. Journal of Speech and Hearing Research 25, 554–64.
Luce, P. A. & Pisoni, D. B. (1998). Recognizing spoken words: The neighborhood activation model. Ear & Hearing 19, 136.
Macken, M. A. (1980). The child's lexical representation: The ‘puzzle-puddle-pickle’ evidence. Journal of Linguistics 16, 117.
Nelson, D. L., McEvoy, C. & Schreiber, T. (1998). The University of South Florida word association, rhyme, and word fragment norms. Retrieved from:
Nelson, D. L., McKinney, V., Gee, N. & Janczura, G. (1998). Interpreting the influence of implicitly activated memories on recall and recognition. Psychological Review 105, 299324.
Nelson, D. L. & Zhang, N. (2000). The ties that bind what is known to the recall of what is new. Psychonomic Bulletin and Review 7, 604617.
Nelson, D. L., Zhang, N. & McKinney, V. (2001). The ties that bind what is known to the recognition of what is new. Journal of Experimental Psychology: Learning, Memory, and Cognition 27, 1147–59.
Newman, R. S. & German, D. J. (2005). Life span effects on lexical factors in oral naming. Language and Speech 48(2), 123–56.
Pisoni, D. B., Nusbaum, H. C., Luce, P. A. & Slowiaczek, L. M. (1985). Speech perception, word recognition and the structure of the lexicon. Speech Communication 4, 7595.
Rice, M. L., Oetting, J. B., Marquis, J., Bode, J. & Pae, S. (1994). Frequency of input effects on word comprehension of children with specific language impairment. Journal of Speech and Hearing Research 37, 106122.
Schwartz, R. G. & Leonard, L. B. (1982). Do children pick and choose? An examination of phonological selection and avoidance in early lexical acquisition. Journal of Child Language 9, 319–36.
Smith, L. B. (2000). Learning how to learn words: An associative crane. In Golinkoff, R. M., Hirsh-Pasek, K., Akhtar, N., Bloom, L., Hollich, G., Plunkett, K., Smith, L., Tomasello, M. & Woodward, A. (eds), Becoming a word learner: A debate on lexical acquisition, 5180. London: Oxford Press.
Smith, N. V. (1973). The acquisition of phonology: A case study. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
Soja, N. N., Carey, S. & Spelke, E. S. (1991). Ontological categories guide young children's inductions of word meaning: Object terms and substance terms. Cognition 38, 179211.
Storkel, H. L. (2001). Learning new words: Phonotactic probability in language development. Journal of Speech, Language, and Hearing Research 44, 1321–37.
Storkel, H. L. (2004a). The emerging lexicon of children with phonological delays: Phonotactic constraints and probability in acquisition. Journal of Speech, Language, and Hearing Research 47(5), 1194–212.
Storkel, H. L. (2004b). Methods for minimizing the confounding effects of word length in the analysis of phonotactic probability and neighborhood density. Journal of Speech, Language and Hearing Research 47(6), 1454–68.
Storkel, H. L., Armbruster, J. & Hogan, T. P. (2006). Differentiating phonotactic probability and neighborhood density in adult word learning. Journal of Speech, Language, and Hearing Research 49(6), 1175–92.
Storkel, H. L. & Rogers, M. A. (2000). The effect of probabilistic phonotactics on lexical acquisition. Clinical Linguistics & Phonetics 14, 407425.
Swingley, D. & Aslin, R. N. (2002). Lexical neighborhoods and the word-form representations of 14-month-olds. Psychological Science 13, 480–84.
Vitevitch, M. S. & Luce, P. A. (1999). Probabilistic phonotactics and neighborhood activation in spoken word recognition. Journal of Memory of Language 40, 374408.
Vitevitch, M. S., Luce, P. A., Charles-Luce, J. & Kemmerer, D. (1997). Phonotactics and syllable stress: Implications for the processing of spoken nonsense words. Language and Speech 40, 4762.
Vitevitch, M. S., Luce, P. A., Pisoni, D. B. & Auer, E. T. (1999). Phonotactics, neighborhood activation, and lexical access for spoken words. Brain and Language 68, 306311.
Webster's Seventh Collegiate Dictionary (1967). Los Angeles: Library Reproduction Service.
Werker, J. F., Fennell, C. T., Corcoran, K. M. & Stager, C. L. (2002). Infants' ability to learn phonetically similar words: Effects of age and vocabulary size. Infancy 3, 130.
Yuan, Y. C. (2002). Multiple imputation for missing data: Concepts and new development. Rockville: SAS Institute Inc.
Recommend this journal

Email your librarian or administrator to recommend adding this journal to your organisation's collection.

Journal of Child Language
  • ISSN: 0305-0009
  • EISSN: 1469-7602
  • URL: /core/journals/journal-of-child-language
Please enter your name
Please enter a valid email address
Who would you like to send this to? *


Full text views

Total number of HTML views: 0
Total number of PDF views: 0 *
Loading metrics...

Abstract views

Total abstract views: 0 *
Loading metrics...

* Views captured on Cambridge Core between <date>. This data will be updated every 24 hours.

Usage data cannot currently be displayed