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Dev Psychol. 2009 Nov;45(6):1611-7. doi: 10.1037/a0016134.

Infants' learning of novel words in a stochastic environment.

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  • 1Department of Psychology, New York University, New York, NY 10003, USA. athena.vouloumanos@nyu.edu

Abstract

In everyday word learning words are only sometimes heard in the presence of their referent, making the acquisition of novel words a particularly challenging task. The current study investigated whether children (18-month-olds who are novice word learners) can track the statistics of co-occurrence between words and objects to learn novel mappings in a stochastic environment. Infants were briefly trained on novel word-novel object pairs with variable degrees of co-occurrence: Words were either paired reliably with 1 referent or stochastically paired with 2 different referents with varying probabilities. Infants were sensitive to the co-occurrence statistics between words and referents, tracking not just the strongest available contingency but also low-frequency information. The statistical strength of the word-referent mapping may also modulate real-time online lexical processing in infants. Infants are thus able to track stochastic relationships between words and referents in the process of learning novel words.

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