Eighteen-month-old children learn words in non-ostensive contexts.
Previous studies have demonstrated that children aged 2;0 can learn new words in a variety of non-ostensive contexts. The current two studies were aimed at seeing if this was also true of children just beginning to learn words at 1;6. In the first study an adult interacted with 48 children. She used a nonce word to announce her intention to find an object ('Let's find the gazzer'), picked up and rejected an object with obvious disappointment, and then gleefully found the target object (using no language). Children learned the new word as well in this condition as in a condition in which the adult found the object immediately. In the second study the adult first played several rounds of a finding game with each of 60 children, in which it was first established that one of several novel objects was always in a very distinctive hiding place (a toy barn). The adult then used a nonce word to announce her intention to find an object ('Let's find the toma') and then proceeded to the barn. In the key condition the barn was mysteriously 'locked'; the child thus never saw the target object after the nonce word was introduced. Children learned the new word as well in this condition as in a condition in which the adult found the object immediately. The results of these two studies suggest that from very early in language acquisition children learn words not through passive, associative processes, but rather through active attempts to understand adult behaviour in a variety of action and discourse contexts.
Tomasello, M; Strosberg, R; Akhtar, N
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