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Early lexical acquisition: rate, content, and the vocabulary spurt*

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  17 February 2009

Beverly A. Goldfield*
Connecticut College
J. Steven Reznick
Yale University
Child Development Department, Connecticut College, New London, Connecticut 06320, USA


The transition from slow to rapid word-learning was examined in a longitudinal study of 18 children. Beginning at age 1;2, mothers kept a diary of children's words. Diary entries were discussed during phone calls to the home every 2½ weeks. A chronological record of nouns and other word classes was coded from the diary records.

Thirteen children evidenced a prolonged period of up to three months during which rate of acquisition markedly increased. Almost threequarters of the words learned during this period were nouns. Five children evidenced more gradual word-learning, and acquired a balance of nouns and other word classes. These results suggest that the terms ‘vocabulary spurt’ and ‘naming explosion’ best describe children who focus their early linguistic efforts on a single strategy: learning names for things. Other children may attempt to encode a broad range of experience with a more varied lexicon, a strategy that results in more gradual lexical growth.

Copyright © Cambridge University Press 1990

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This study was supported by a grant from the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation Network on the Transition from Infancy to Childhood. We would like to thank X. Bradford Johns and Jane Gibbons for their help with data collection, and the children and parents who so generously gave their time and energy.


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