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Do 9-month-old infants expect distinct words to refer to kinds? Dewar, Kathryn Megan


Three experiments investigated [t]he effect of labeling on 9-month-old infants’ object representations. During familiarization, a box was opened to reveal two objects inside: either two identical objects or two different objects. Test trials followed the same procedure except, before the box was opened, the contents were described using either two distinct labels ("I see a wug! I see a dak!") or the same label twice ("I see a zav! I see a zav!"). Infants hearing different labels looked longer at two identical objects versus two different objects. This pattern was reversed when infants heard a label repeated twice. The property of shape is a salient cue to kind membership and infants may expect different-shaped objects to be marked by different labels. However, they should not have this expectation for objects that differ in a kind-independent property, like colour. A second and third experiment where different object pairs differed only in shape and colour, respectively, confirmed these predictions. These results suggest that, prior to word learning, infants may expect distinct labels to refer to distinct kinds.

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