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UBC Theses and Dissertations

How infants respond to familiar and novel words : comparing bilinguals and monolinguals Byers-Heinlein, Krista Nicole


Infants growing up bilingual provide a unique window into how the language environment interacts with word learning and word comprehension mechanisms. The present studies used a preferential looking paradigm to investigate monolingual and bilingual 18-month-old infants’ responses to familiar and novel words. Monolinguals and bilinguals both responded to familiar words with increased attention to the target object. Both groups also showed the mutual exclusivity effect in response to a novel word, by increasing attention to an unfamiliar object. However, while monolinguals showed a linear pattern of increasing attention to the unfamiliar object over time, bilingual infants initially increased attention to the distracter and only later increased attention to the unfamiliar object. These results suggest that monolingual and bilinguals infants use a different processing strategy in demonstrating the mutual exclusivity effect, which may arise from differences in lexical knowledge and organization. The results support the view that differences in early linguistic experience can affect emerging word learning constraints.

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