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Infants’ use of syntactic cues to learn proper names and count nouns Bélanger, Julie

Abstract

The general purpose of this study was to investigate infants' understanding of objects as individuals and as category members by examining their understanding of proper names and count nouns. Forty-eight infants participated in one of two experiments. In both experiments, infants were taught a novel word for a stuffed animal presented on a puppet stage. The novel word was presented syntactically either as a proper name (e.g., " He's called DAXY") or as a count noun (e.g., "He's called a DAXY"). The animal was moved to a new location on the stage, and a second identical-looking animal was placed where the first toy was originally located. Infants were then asked to look at one of the objects as a referent for the novel word. Infants' looking behaviour was recorded. At 20 months (Experiment 1), but not at 16 months (Experiment 2), infants were more likely to look at the labeled object as a referent for the novel word in a condition in which they heard a proper name than in either a condition in which they heard a count noun or a baseline condition in which they heard no word. By 20 months of age, infants thus used syntactic information to distinguish appropriately between proper names, referring to objects as individuals, and count nouns, referring to objects as category members.

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