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Cognition. 2013 Jun;127(3):307-17. doi: 10.1016/j.cognition.2013.01.010. Epub 2013 Mar 28.

Slow mapping: color word learning as a gradual inductive process.

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Department of Psychology, 0109, University of California, San Diego, La Jolla, CA 92093, United States.


Most current accounts of color word acquisition propose that the delay between children's first production of color words and adult-like understanding is due to problems abstracting color as a domain of meaning. Here we present evidence against this hypothesis, and show that, from the time children produce color words in a labeling task they use them to represent color. In Experiment 1, an analysis of early color word errors finds that, before acquiring adult-like understanding, children make systematic hypotheses about color word meanings, which are best characterized as overextensions of adult meanings. Using a comprehension task, Experiment 2 finds that these overextensions are due to overly broad color categories, rather than a communicative strategy. These results indicate that the delay between production and adult-like understanding of color words is not due to difficulties abstracting color, but is largely attributable to the problem of determining the color boundaries marked by specific languages.

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