Organizer: Mutsumi Imai | Keio University, Japan
In the literature of lexical development, much effort has been made to uncover how young children learn to associate words and their referent objects. However, learning word meanings is extremely complex. Different types of word such as nouns, verbs, adjectives divide the world in different, language-specific ways. Words are not only the unit to carry meanings. Young children need to discover how certain forms of words or morpho-syntactic categories carve up and codify the information they observe in everyday situations. In this symposium, 4 papers present different aspects of lexical acquisition—actions words (verbs), emotion words, color words, and expressions of evidentiality, each addressing important challenges children face in lexical acquisition and how they solve these difficulties.
Testing the role of similiarity vs. variation across examples in children’s verb learning
Jane B. Childers, Sneh Lalani, Bibiana Cutiletta, Katherine Capps & Hannah Susman | Trinity University, San Antonio, Texas
How do children become productive users of new verbs? Events linked to a verb provide information about its extension, and children can compare events (e.g.,Childers, 2011;Scott & Fisher, 2012). But, does variability help or harm verb learning?
Study 1 tests whether children benefit from seeing similarvs. varied events separated in time (live events). Two½-, 3½- and 4½-year-olds saw 3 similar, 3 varied, or a single novel event, while learning a verb. Events were separated by 1 minutedelays; test trials included new objects. 3½- and 4½-year-olds extended the verbs after seeing similar or varied events, differing from children seeing only one event. Thus, children benefited from comparisons, but variability was neither helpful or harmful.
Study 2 asks whether similar events help children learn how to compare (eye tracking). Two½- (n=33) and 3½-year-olds (n=36) were shown events, half in a ‘similar first’ and half in all varied condition. Children saw exactly the same pair of (varied) events before test. Areas of interest (AOIs) were agent, affected object, and tool in this pair. Two½-year-olds looked longer at the agent and affected object only in the similar first condition, yet they were at chance at test. Three ½-year-olds produced more extensions in the similar first than the all varied condition. Thus, seeing similar events influenced 2.5-year-olds’ looking, but did not benefit verb extension ability until 3.5 years.
The last two studies test the effect of variation of specific elements in events. Study 3 investigates agent variation across simple or complex events (video events). Children aged 2½- to 3-years in the U.S.(n=25), China(n=29), Korea(n=16) and Singapore(n=29) learned verbs linked to simple and complex events. Sets included one or three agents; children pointed to extend verbs. Children learning verbs linked to simple movements were able to extend verbs across conditions; when verbs were linked to complex events, they were less successful if seeing multiple agents. Similar patterns of results emerged across languages, suggesting common cognitive processes support verb learning.
Study 4 tested verb learning when either tools or objects vary (eye tracking). Two½- (n=34) and 3½-year-olds (n=34) participated. Children saw 3 different tools, 3 objects, or no variation while an eye tracker recorded fixations (AOIs: agents, tools, objects). At test, children pointed to one of two events. ANCOVA showed adjusting visual attention to tools predicted verb extensions (Tool AOI, F(1,67)=6.31, p<.02); looking to other AOIs did not. In sum, visual attention to variations of tools was linked to success in verb learning.
Thus, the usefulness of variation is complex, depending on age, event type and prior experience learning verbs. Results will be linked to theories of comparison, including Structural Alignment theory (e.g., Gentner, 1983).
A cross-linguistic study of the acquisition of the color lexical systems
Noburo Saji, Gerlind Grosse, Cornelia Schulze, Michiko Asano, Henrik Saalbach, and Mutsumi Imai | Kamakura Women’s University, Keio University, Leipzig University, FH Potsdam
The present study investigated how Japanese- and German-reared children learn the meanings of basic color words and are immersed into the language-specific system of the color lexicon. The study examined how children discover the boundaries of color names by having 3-, and 5-year-old children produce names for 93 color patches. We found that even 3-year-olds children can map color words to its typical referents. Then children learned the boundaries between neighboring color words by age. Compared to the learning trajectory in Japanese-reared children, the pattern of word-use in German children converges to adult-like use earlier than those in Japanese children. However, the steps of learning were similar between the two languages, e.g., the worm and cool colors were divided first, and then the finer color names were appropriately labeled. The results indicated that the ease of learning color words varies across languages depending on the semantic structures of the ambient languages, while the trajectory of learning is consistent because they are constrained by the domain-general mechanism of category learning.
Let’s talk about emotions: Breadth and depth of Children’s emotion vocabulary
Gerlind Große, Berit Streubel, Catherine Gunzenhauser, Henrik Saalbach | FH Potsdam, Leipzig University
The meaning of a word and the boundaries of that meaning are determined by the meaning of the words belonging to the same semantic domain. This means that children need to learn a cluster of words in the same semantic domain and delineate the boundaries among them (Saji et al., 2011). This is particularly critical for emotion words, as compared to object names, because inner feelings and emotion displays do not have natural partitions.
Our research aims are twofold. (1) We will investigate age-related differences in emotion vocabulary breadth. Older children should have a larger emotion vocabulary than younger children. (2) However, children can recognize or use a specific word without fully capturing the meaning of the concept as understood by adult speakers (e.g. Ameel et al., 2008; Saji et al., 2011). We will therefore also investigate children’s vocabulary depth and semantic organization of emotion words by using multidimensional scaling to compare the labeling of a representative sample of emotional concepts across different age groups of children with an adult sample. We examine (a) what factors influence the ease of learning a specific emotion word and (b) how children’s use of emotion words differs from adults’ use.
Design: To investigate age-related differences in emotion-specific vocabulary, we are using a cross-sectional design. We assess the production of emotion words in a newly developed vignette test (Streubel et al., forthcoming) and analyze the development of emotion vocabulary breadth and depth (MDS analysis) while taking into account the following covariates: age, gender, general vocabulary (PPVT-4), SES, input frequency and word difficulty.
Sample: We tested children from age four to eleven (N = 120) as well as an adult reference group (N = 30, M=37 y). Analyses and Results: As expected, vocabulary breadth increases with children’s age. Girl’s score higher on emotion-specific vocabulary size and depth. Using a multi-dimensional scaling analysis, we calculated the distances between the emotion words and compared categorization patterns between age groups. Children start off with a rough two-dimensional pattern. Over the course of preschool and the early school years the emotion-specific vocabulary becomes more differentiated and more similar to adult usage. At age 11, emotion word usage is still considerable different from adult-like patterns, indicating that the development of emotion concepts is a continuous and demanding process.
Acquisition of Evidentiality
Ercenur Ünal | Özyeğin University, Turkey
Although children typically understand the links between specific forms and their meanings before they produce the forms themselves, the opposite pattern also occurs. The nature of these asymmetries remains debated. I will focus on a striking case where production precedes comprehension in the acquisition of Turkish evidential morphology and evaluate two competing theoretical explanations of why this phenomenon occurs. I show that Turkish learners aged between 3 and 6 produce evidential morphemes accurately but have difficulty with evidential comprehension. Furthermore, delay in comprehension persists in multiple tasks with varying demands, suggesting that this delay may not be linked to methodological factors but seems to be best explained by the development of mental perspective-taking abilities needed to compute someone else’s knowledge sources. In support for this hypothesis, the relation between production and comprehension is also mirrored in the conceptual correlates of these abilities, i.e., reasoning about one’s own evidence for information vs. reasoning about others’ evidence.