Form and Function in Very Early Word Learning

Amanda Woodward

There is evidence that very young word learners have begun to learn about the communicative functions of words. Many questions about the extent of this knowledge are as yet unanswered, but we have evidence that like older babies, 13-month-olds attend to a speaker’s behavior when learning a new word. However, there are intriguing differences in the learning of 13-month-olds and the learning of 20-month-olds. In particular, 13-month-olds seem to be more open minded about the forms of names, accepting novel signals when they are accompanied by behavioral cues that support the interpretation that the signal is intended to be communicative. It is possible, therefore, that infants base their developing concept of a name on features of behavior that are relevant to communicative intent rather than on a particular perceptual form.


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