The acquisition of abstract words by young infants.
Young infants' learning of words for abstract concepts like 'all gone' and 'eat,' in contrast to their learning of more concrete words like 'apple' and 'shoe,' may follow a relatively protracted developmental course. We examined whether infants know such abstract words. Parents named one of two events shown in side-by-side videos while their 6-16-month-old infants (n=98) watched. On average, infants successfully looked at the named video by 10 months, but not earlier, and infants' looking at the named referent increased robustly at around 14 months. Six-month-olds already understand concrete words in this task (Bergelson & Swingley, 2012). A video-corpus analysis of unscripted mother-infant interaction showed that mothers used the tested abstract words less often in the presence of their referent events than they used concrete words in the presence of their referent objects. We suggest that referential uncertainty in abstract words' teaching conditions may explain the later acquisition of abstract than concrete words, and we discuss the possible role of changes in social-cognitive abilities over the 6-14 month period.
Bergelson, E; Swingley, D
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