New publication: The conceptual basis of word learning

Link to paper here.

Abstract: Although it is widely recognized that human infants build a sizeable conceptual repertoire before mastering language, it remains a matter of debate whether and to what extent early conceptual and category knowledge contributes to language development. We addressed this question by investigating whether 12-month-olds used preverbal categories to discover the meanings of new words. We showed that one group of infants (n = 18) readily extended novel labels to previously unseen exemplars of preverbal visual categories after only a single labelling episode, but two other groups struggled to do so when taught labels for unfamiliar categories (those who had been previously exposed, n = 18, or not exposed, n = 18, to category tokens). These results suggest that infants expect labels to denote categories of objects and are equipped with learning mechanisms responsible for matching prelinguistic knowledge structures with linguistic inputs. This ability is consistent with the idea that our conceptual machinery provides building blocks for vocabulary and language acquisition.