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Early object labels: the case for a developmental lexical principles framework[*]

  • Roberta Michnick Golinkoff (a1), Carolyn B. Mervis (a2) and Kathryn Hirsh-Pasek (a3)

Universally, object names make up the largest proportion of any word type found in children's early lexicons. Here we present and critically evaluate a set of six lexical principles (some previously proposed and some new) for making object label learning a manageable task. Overall, the principles have the effect of reducing the amount of information that language-learning children must consider for what a new word might mean. These principles are constructed by children in a two-tiered developmental sequence, as a function of their sensitivity to linguistic input, contextual information, and social-interactional cues. Thus, the process of lexical acquisition changes as a result of the particular principles a given child has at his or her disposal. For children who have only the principles of the first tier (REFERENCE, EXTENDIBILITY, and OBJECT SCOPE), word learning has a deliberate and laborious look. The principles of the second tier (CATEGORICAL SCOPE, NOVEL NAME – NAMELESS CATEGORY’ or N3C, and CONVENTIONALITY) enable the child to acquire many new labels rapidly. The present unified account is argued to have a number of advantages over treating such principles separately and non-developmentally. Further, the explicit recognition that the acquisition and operation of these principles is influenced by the child's interpretation of both linguistic and non-linguistic input is seen as an advance.

Corresponding author
Address for correspondence: Department of Educational Studies, College of Education, University of Delaware, Newark, Delaware, 19716, USA. Email: CXCo4599@UDELVM.BITNET.
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A version of this paper was presented at the Society for Research in Child Development meetings in 1993. The research described herein was supported by a fellowship from the John Simon Guggenheim Memorial Foundation and a James McKeen Cattell Sabbatical Award to Golinkoff, and grant No. HD 19568 from the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development awarded to Golinkoff and Hirsh-Pasek. Mervis's participation also was supported by grants from that Institute (HD27042 and HD20892) and from the National Science Foundation (BNS84–19036). We wish to thank Jacquelyn Bertrand, Lois Bloom, Bill Frawley, Gaby Hermon and our long-standing MLU group for their helpful comments on various drafts of this manuscript.

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