Skip to main content Accessibility help

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

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

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.

Hide All
Bates, E., Benigni, L., Bretherton, I., Camaioni, L. & Volterra, V. (1979). The emergence of symbols.. New YorkAcademic Press.
Bloom, L. (1973). One word at a time: the use of single word utterances before syntax. The Hague: Mouton.
Bower, T. G. R. (1974). Development in infancy. San Francisco: Freeman.
Brown, R. (1958). How shall a thing be called? PsycholRev 65. 1421.
Brown, R. (1973). A first language. Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press.
Bruner, J. S. (1973). Organization of early skilled action. ChDev 44. 111.
Corrigan, R. (1978). Language development as related to stage 6 object permanence development. JChLang 5. 173–89.
Gopnik, A. (1981). The development of non-nominal expressions in 12–24 month olds. In Dale, P. & Ingram, D. (eds), Child language: an international perspective. Baltimore: University Park Press.
Gopnik, A. (1982). Words and plans: early language and the development of intelligent action. JChLang 9. 308–18.
Gopnik, A. (1984). The acquisition of gone and the development of the object concept. JChLang 11. 273–92.
Gopnik, A. & Meltzoff, A. (in press a). From people to plans to objects: changes in the meanings of early words and their relation to cognitive development. JPrag.
Gopnik, A.(in press b). Words, plans, things and locations: interactions between semantic and cognitive development in the one-word stage. In Barrett, M. & Kuczaj, S. (eds), The development of word meaning. New York: Springer Verlag.
McCune-Nicolich, L. (1981). The cognitive bases of relational words in the single-word period. JChLang 8. 1534.
Miller, J., Chapman, R., Branston, M. & Reichle, J. (1980). Language comprehension in sensorimotor stages V and VI. JSpHearRes 23. 284315.
Moore, K. & Meltzoff, A. (1978). Object permanence, imitation and language development. In Minifie, F. & Lloyd, L. (eds), Communicative and cognitive abilities. Baltimore: University Park Press.
Pea, R. (1980). The development of negation in early child language. In Olson, D. (ed.), The social foundations of language and thought. New York: Norton.
Piaget, J. (1953). The origins of intelligence in the child. London: Routledge & Kegan Paul.
Piaget, J. (1954). The child's construction of reality. New York: Basic Books.
Piaget, J. (1962). Play, dreams and imitation in childhood. New York: Norton.
Smolak, L. (1982). Cognitive precursors of receptive vs. expressive language. JChLang 9. 1322.
Uzgiris, I. & Hunt, J. (1975). Assessment in infancy. Urbana: University of Illinois Press.
Vygotsky, L. S. (1962). Thought and language. Cambridge, Mass.: M.I.T.
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