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Semantic and cognitive development in 15- to 21-month-old children*

  • Alison Gopnik (a1) and Andrew N. Meltzoff (a2)
Abstract

Recent studies suggest a specific relationship between the acquisition of the word ‘gone’ and the development of the object concept. A longitudinal study investigated whether there is a similar relationship between the acquisition of words that encode success and failure, such as no, uh-oh and there, and the development of means–ends skills. A cross-sectional study investigated both these relationships. The results suggest that children acquire the word gone after they solve simple invisible displacement tasks but before they solve serial invisible displacement tasks. They also show that children acquire success/failure words after they use insight to solve the problem of the string but before they use insight to solve more difficult means–ends problems. These sequences cannot be explained in terms of age, general cognitive development or general linguistic development. It is argued that gone encodes a concept related to the concepts that underlie success on invisible displacement tasks, and that success/failure words encode concepts related to the concepts that underlie the development of insight. Children seem to acquire words that encode concepts they have just developed or are in the process of developing. These results suggest that there are strong and specific links between the acquisition of particular types of meanings and particular cognitive achievements. Several alternative explanations for these early links between semantic and conceptual development are proposed.

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Journal of Child Language
  • ISSN: 0305-0009
  • EISSN: 1469-7602
  • URL: /core/journals/journal-of-child-language
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