Over-Extension and Under-Extension in Word Learning

Esther Dromi

In: Encyclopedia of Language Development

Over-Extension and Under-Extension in Word Learning

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  • The meanings of children's first words do not always correspond to the meanings of the same words in adult language. Early words may be extended to a broader class of referents, some of which fall outside of the conventionally agreed-upon category for that word in adult language—a phenomenon termed over-extension. Alternatively, words can be used restrictively in a single context or for a very limited subset of instances in the corresponding adult category—a phenomenon termed under-extension. For example, the word dog would be an over-extension when used by the child to refer to other animals (e.g., gerbil, fish, or horse); the same word would be an under-extension when used to refer to a particular dog (i.e., the family dog) but neither to pictures of dogs ...

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