Oct 25, 2007
Author(s): M. Elaine Heard
Upon hearing a word for the first time, children must decide what aspects of the scene are important to the meaning of a word, and use that knowledge to extend the word to new examples. Two experiments examined how varying the use of nouns and verbs may guide children’s attention to the perceptual and functional characteristics of objects. In both studies, novel objects and actions were introduced at the same time in conjunction with one label whose category of speech varied by condition (Noun, Verb, No Word) and that could be interpreted as referring to either the action or the object being presented. Children’s choice between a new item that was perceptually or functionally similar to the target in a word extension task was used to measure their understanding that different types of words have different referents. Results from Experiment 1 (N = 60) suggested that while the task naturally drew children’s attention to function, children in the Noun condition extended the novel word to similarly shaped objects. In Experiment 2, (N = 30) the targets and the objects functionally similar to the targets were altered to increase their functional salience. This change altered children’s performance such that no significant difference in responding was found between conditions.