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Language-specific noun bias: evidence from bilingual children*


Most evidence concerning cross-linguistic variation in noun bias, the preponderance of nouns in early expressive lexicons (Gentner, 1982), has come from comparisons of monolingual children acquiring different languages. Such designs are susceptible to a number of potential confounders, including group differences in developmental level and sociodemographic characteristics. The aim of this study was to quantify noun bias in bilingual Mandarin–English toddlers whose expressive lexicons in each language contained 50–300 words. Parents of fifty children (1;10–2;6) reported separately on their English and Mandarin expressive lexicons. The mean percentage of Mandarin nouns (38%) was significantly lower than the percentage of English nouns (54%) and was robust to analyses of twelve potential covariates. Analyses of the most frequently reported words suggested that lexical reduplication could be considered as a potential influence on vocabulary composition in future studies. Results suggest that characteristics of the input significantly shape early lexicons.

Corresponding author
Address for correspondence: Lei Xuan, Department of Clinical Sciences, University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center at Dallas, 5323 Harry Hines Boulevard, Dallas, Texas 75390-9169USA. e-mail
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This research was based on the first author's dissertation at the University of Texas at Dallas and was supported by a dissertation grant. We thank William Katz, Mandy Maguire, Virginia Marchman, and Robert Stillman for their invaluable comments and support. We also thank Christina Worle for assistance with reliability coding. Finally, we are indebted to the parents who participated in the study.

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Journal of Child Language
  • ISSN: 0305-0009
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