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Young children's flexible use of semantic cues to word meanings: converging evidence of individual and age differences*


A new test of children's flexible use of semantic cues for word learning extended previous results. In Experiment 1, three- to five-year-olds (N=51) completed two tests of interpreting several novel words for the same stimulus arrays. Within-sentence phrasal cues implied different stimulus referent properties. Children's cue-using flexibility in the new Flexible Induction of Meanings [Words for Animates] test (FIM-An) was strongly correlated with an established test (Flexible Induction of Meanings [Words for Objects]; Deák, 2000). Individual children showed between-test consistency in using cues to flexibly assign words to different referent properties. There were large individual differences, as well as limited age differences, in the distribution of flexible and inflexible response patterns. The comprehensibility of specific cues, and perceptual salience of specific properties, explained much of the variance. Proportions of flexible and inflexible patterns shifted with age. Experiment 2 replicated these results in N=36 three- and four-year-olds, using a modified FIM-An with more distinctive cues.

Corresponding author
Address for correspondence: Gedeon O. Deák, Dept. of Cognitive Science, 9500 Gilman Dr., University of California, San Diego, La Jolla CA 92093-0515, USA.
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This research was supported by a Hellman fellowship and by National Science Foundation award BCS-0092027 to the first author. Thanks to the children who participated, and to Sarah Creel, Anna Holt, and Jenny Nowinski for comments on an earlier draft.

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Journal of Child Language
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