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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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Department of Psychology, New York University, New York, NY 10003, USA.


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.

[Indexed for MEDLINE]

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