Shape, material, and syntax

Interacting forces in children's learning in novel words for objects and substances

Kaveri Subrahmanyam, Barbara Landau, Rochel Gelman

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

Abstract

In three studies, we examined the roles of ontological and syntactic information in children's learning of words for physical entities, such as objects and substances. In Experiment 1, 3-year-olds and 4- to 5-year-olds, and adults first saw either an Object or Substance Standard labelled with either a mass or a count noun. Transfer items varied in shape and/or material as compared to the Standards. The 3-year-olds attended to ontologically relevant information about the Standard (i.e. its object/substance status), whereas 4- to 5-year-olds and adults used the syntactic context that marked the label as a mass or count noun. However, the tendency for 4- to 5-year-olds to use the syntactic context when they heard a label (mass or count) was less pronounced when the Standards were more ambiguous (Experiment 2). In Experiment 3, 3-year-olds who were shown the Object or Substance Standard in a No-Name similarity judgement task, attended to shape for both Standard types. This contrasts with the findings from Experiment 1, and suggests that attention to information about the ontological status of a referent may only become relevant during labelling. Our results reveal a strong and changing developmental interaction for the use of ontologically relevant perceptual information, labels, and syntax. Early ontological/ conceptual biases might serve as a scaffold for the later more determinate attention to syntactic information during word learning.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)249-281
Number of pages33
JournalLanguage and Cognitive Processes
Volume14
Issue number3
DOIs
StatePublished - 1999
Externally publishedYes

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syntax
Learning
learning
experiment
Names
Novel Words
Syntax
Experiment
trend
interaction
Ontological
Count Nouns

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Linguistics and Language
  • Neuroscience(all)
  • Psychology(all)
  • Experimental and Cognitive Psychology

Cite this

Shape, material, and syntax : Interacting forces in children's learning in novel words for objects and substances. / Subrahmanyam, Kaveri; Landau, Barbara; Gelman, Rochel.

In: Language and Cognitive Processes, Vol. 14, No. 3, 1999, p. 249-281.

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

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