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The development of associative word learning in monolingual and bilingual infants*



Children growing up bilingual face a unique linguistic environment. The current study investigated whether early bilingual experience influences the developmental trajectory of associative word learning, a foundational mechanism for lexical acquisition. Monolingual and bilingual infants (N = 98) were tested on their ability to learn dissimilar-sounding words (lif and neem) in the Switch task. Twelve-month-olds from both language backgrounds failed to detect a violation of a previously taught word–object pairing. However, both monolinguals and bilinguals succeeded at 14 months, and their performance did not differ. The results indicate that early bilingual experience does not interfere with the development of the fundamental ability to form word–object associations, suggesting that this mechanism is robust across different early language environments.


Corresponding author

Address for correspondence: Krista Byers-Heinlein, Concordia University, Department of Psychology, 7141 Sherbrooke St. West, Montreal, Quebec, H4B 1R6,


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We thank Susan Small, Vivian Pan, and Jasmine Cady for their assistance with data collection, as well as the parents and infants who participated. This research was supported by doctoral fellowships from the National Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada (NSERC), the O'Brien Foundation, the Killam Trust, and the Canadian Federation of University Women to KBH, by an NSERC Discovery Grant to CTF, and by grants from the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada, the Human Frontiers Science Program, and the Canadian Institutes for Advanced Research to JFW. An earlier version of this work was presented in 2008 at the International Conference on Models of Interaction in Bilinguals, Bangor, UK. Portions of this work formed part of KBH's doctoral thesis, advised by JFW.



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