UBC Faculty Research and Publications

Second label learning in monolingual and bilingual infants Kandhadai, Padmapriya; Hall, D. Geoffrey; Werker, Janet


Prior research has shown that, at the initial stages of lexical development, children have a number of assumptions, which guide rapid word learning. One such assumption, mutual exclusivity, posits that each object has only one category label. We explored the role of linguistic experience in 18-month-old infants' use of mutual exclusivity to interpret a novel word when it is applied to a familiar object. In our design, monolingual and bilingual infants heard a novel label that was applied to a familiar object with a salient color (e.g., an aqua-colored dog). They were subsequently tested with two trials that probed whether they interpreted the word as a second category label for the object (e.g., another word meaning dog) or as a label for one of the object's salient properties, namely its color (e.g., a word meaning aqua). Bilingual infants, in contrast to monolingual infants, did not use mutual exclusivity and instead appeared to accept a second object category label for the familiar object. In contrast, monolingual infants did seem to apply mutual exclusivity: They rejected the novel word as a second category label, and instead appeared to interpret it as a property (color) term for the familiar object. The findings suggest that linguistic background has a significant impact on lexical development. As such, successful theoretical accounts of early word learning must consider the crucial role of linguistic experience.

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