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Syntactic and intentional cues as guides to word learning in nonostensive contexts Proctor, Jane M.

Abstract

This research examined preschoolers' (N = 96) and adults' (N = 96) use of syntactic and intentional information to learn new words. Participants took part in a two-item forcedchoice task, in which they had to choose either a solid entity or a nonsolid entity as the referent of a novel word (e.g., "dax"). We varied two factors between subjects. One was the syntactic information that accompanied the word - whether the word was modeled as a count noun (e.g., "Which is a dax?") or a mass noun (e.g., "Which is some dax?"). Consistent with previous findings, participants tended to choose solid entities as the referents of count nouns and nonsolid entities as the referents of mass nouns. Unlike past research, we also manipulated the intentional information provided for the two entities - which item was said to be made on purpose and which was said to be made by accident. This intentional information also affected participants' choices. When the solids were described as purposefully made and the nonsolids as made by accident, participants again tended to choose solids as the referents of count nouns and nonsolids as the referents of mass nouns. However, when the solids were described as accidentally made and the nonsolids as made on purpose, these choices changed - participants were more likely to choose nonsolids as the referents of count nouns. The results offer new insight into early lexical development by revealing that preschoolers exploit intentional cues, in addition to syntactic cues, in determining the referents of new words.

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