Wordform variability in infants' language environment and its effects on early word learning
We explore wordform variability in a naturalistic environment by looking at wordplay (e.g. ''dog~doggy''), where multiple different wordforms composed of different sounds can be used to pick out the same object in the world. In this chapter, we characterize concrete noun wordplay in speech to 44 infants, looking at both the frequency of wordplay and the ways in which wordplay forms differ from the adult form. We also look at wordform variability wholesale, examining relationships between how many different wordforms exist per lemma in children's language environments. We find that wordplay occurs with a limited number of lemmas that are usually early-learned, highly-frequent, and shorter. We find that wordplay rates by themselves do not predict learning, suggesting that infants who hear a higher proportion of unconventional wordforms do not lag behind as a result. When looking at wordform variability beyond just wordplay, we find that infants who hear more wordforms per lemma also say more words in our recordings. Furthermore, we find that individual words with higher levels of wordform variability are learned earlier than words with fewer wordforms, over and above the effect of frequency.
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