Word Learning Constraints

Ellen M. Markman & Taylor F. Holubar

In: Encyclopedia of Language Development

Word Learning Constraints

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  • Word learning constraints are default assumptions, biases, or good first guesses that babies and young children use in figuring out the meaning of a novel word. Each occasion of word learning is an inductive process in which a child begins to hone in on the meaning of a term. Even when someone points to an object and explicitly labels it (ostensive definition), the referent is underspecified. The label could, in principle, refer to the object itself, its parts, color, size, shape, texture, activity, and so on. Three word-learning constraints postulated to help children solve this inductive problem are (1) the whole-object assumption, which leads children to construe the novel word as a label for the object itself rather than myriad other possible meanings; (2) the ...

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