Skip to main content Accessibility help

Cultural influences on the developing semantic lexicon

  • Karla McGREGOR (a1) (a2), Natalie MUNRO (a1), Su Mei CHEN (a2), Elise BAKER (a1) and Jacob OLESON (a2)...


To determine whether the developing semantic lexicon varies with culture, we examined the animal and food naming of children from three communities distinguished by language, cultural heritage, and population density. The children were five- and seven-year-olds from Australia (n = 197), Taiwan (n = 456), and the US (n = 172). Naming patterns revealed hierarchical and flexible organization of the semantic lexicon. The content of the lexicon, particularly food names, varied with cultural heritage. In all three communities, wild mammals were predominant during animal naming, a likely influence of children's media. The influence of the Chinese zodiac was evident in the clustering of animal names in the Taiwanese sample. There was no apparent influence of population density and little influence of language, except that the Taiwanese children more frequently named foods at the superordinate level, a possible influence of the structure of Mandarin. Children develop their lexicons in response to culture as experienced first-hand or through media.

  • View HTML
    • Send article to Kindle

      To send this article to your Kindle, first ensure is added to your Approved Personal Document E-mail List under your Personal Document Settings on the Manage Your Content and Devices page of your Amazon account. Then enter the ‘name’ part of your Kindle email address below. Find out more about sending to your Kindle. Find out more about sending to your Kindle.

      Note you can select to send to either the or variations. ‘’ emails are free but can only be sent to your device when it is connected to wi-fi. ‘’ emails can be delivered even when you are not connected to wi-fi, but note that service fees apply.

      Find out more about the Kindle Personal Document Service.

      Cultural influences on the developing semantic lexicon
      Available formats

      Send article to Dropbox

      To send this article to your Dropbox account, please select one or more formats and confirm that you agree to abide by our usage policies. If this is the first time you use this feature, you will be asked to authorise Cambridge Core to connect with your <service> account. Find out more about sending content to Dropbox.

      Cultural influences on the developing semantic lexicon
      Available formats

      Send article to Google Drive

      To send this article to your Google Drive account, please select one or more formats and confirm that you agree to abide by our usage policies. If this is the first time you use this feature, you will be asked to authorise Cambridge Core to connect with your <service> account. Find out more about sending content to Google Drive.

      Cultural influences on the developing semantic lexicon
      Available formats


Corresponding author

*Corresponding author: Karla McGregor, Senior Scientist, Center for Childhood Deafness, Language & Learning, Boys Town National Research Hospital, 555 North 30th St., Omaha, NE 68131. Tel: +1 319-338-5213; E-mail:


Hide All
Beals, D. E. (1997). Sources of support for learning words in conversation: evidence from mealtimes. Journal of Child Language, 24(3), 673–94.
Chami, S., Munro, N., Docking, K., McGregor, K., Arciuli, J., Baker, E., & Heard, R. (2018). Changes in semantic fluency across childhood: normative data from Australian-English speakers. International Journal of Speech-Language Pathology, 20(2), 262–73.
Cheie, L., Veraksa, A., Zinchenko, Y., Gorovaya, A., & Visu-Petra, L. (2015). A cross-cultural investigation of inhibitory control, generative fluency, and anxiety symptoms in Romanian and Russian preschoolers. Child Neuropsychology, 21(2), 121–49.
Chen, S. M. (2012). Lexical organization in Mandarin-speaking children: insights from the semantic fluency task (Master's thesis), The University of Iowa. Retrieved from <>.
Chung, O. (2011). Mung beans and crocodiles: children's book publishing in Taiwan. Taiwan Today. Retrieved from <,8,29,32,32,45>.
Crowe, S. J., & Prescott, T. J. (2003). Continuity and change in the development of category structure: insights from the semantic fluency task. International Journal of Behavioral Development, 27(5), 467–79.
Fiese, B. H., Tomcho, T. J., Douglas, M., Josephs, K., Poltrock, S., & Baker, T. (2002). A review of 50 years of research on naturally occurring family routines and rituals: Cause for celebration? Journal of Family Psychology, 16(4), 381–90.
Foy, J. G., & Mann, V. (2003). Home literacy environment and phonological awareness in preschool children: differential effects for rhyme and phoneme awareness. Applied Psycholinguistics, 24(1), 5988.
Freebody, P., & Baker, C. (1985). Children's first schoolbooks: introductions to the culture of literacy. Harvard Educational Review, 55(4), 381–99.
Grech, V. (2015). The influence of the Chinese zodiac on the male-to-female ratio at birth in Hong Kong. Journal of the Chinese Medical Association, 78(5), 287–91.
Hart, B., & Risley, T. R. (1995). Meaningful differences in the everyday experience of young American children. Baltimore, MD: Paul H. Brookes Publishing.
Hoff, E. (2006). How social contexts support and shape language development. Developmental Review, 26(1), 5588.
Hoff, E., & Naigles, L. (2002). How children use input to acquire a lexicon. Child Development, 73(2), 418–33.
Hurks, P. P., Schrans, D., Meijs, C., Wassenberg, R., Feron, F. J. M., & Jolles, J. (2010). Developmental changes in semantic verbal fluency: analyses of word productivity as a function of time, clustering, and switching. Child Neuropsychology, 16(4), 366–87.
John, S., & Rajashekhar, B. (2014). Word retrieval ability on semantic fluency task in typically developing Malayalam-speaking children. Child Neuropsychology, 20(2), 182–95.
Kail, R., & Nippold, M. A. (1984). Unconstrained retrieval from semantic memory. Child Development, 55(3), 944–51.
Kavé, G., Kigel, S., & Kochva, R. (2008). Switching and clustering in verbal fluency tasks throughout childhood. Journal of Clinical and Experimental Neuropsychology, 30(3), 349–59.
Koren, R., Kofman, O., & Berger, A. (2005). Analysis of word clustering in verbal fluency of school-aged children. Archives of Clinical Neuropsychology, 20(8), 1087–104.
Lin, P. J., Schwanenflugel, P. J., & Wisenbaker, J. M. (1990). Category typicality, cultural familiarity, and the development of category knowledge. Developmental Psychology, 26(5), 805–13.
Lucariello, J., Kyratzis, A., & Nelson, K. (1992). Taxonomic knowledge: What kind and when? Child Development, 63(4), 978–98.
Lumeng, J. C., Zuckerman, M. D., Cardinal, T., & Kaciroti, N. (2005). The association between flavor labeling and flavor recall ability in children. Chemical Senses, 30(7), 565–74.
Marriott, S. (2002). Red in tooth and claw? Images of nature in modern picture books. Children's Literature in Education, 33(3), 175–83.
Marshall, C. R., Rowley, K., Mason, K., Herman, R., & Morgan, G. (2013). Lexical organization in deaf children who use British Sign Language: evidence from a semantic fluency task. Journal of Child Language, 40(1), 193220.
McMurray, B., Horst, J. S., & Samuelson, L. K. (2012). Word learning emerges from the interaction of online referent selection and slow associative learning. Psychological Review, 119(4), 831–77.
Mura Paroche, M., Caton, S. J., Vereijken, C. M., Weenen, H., & Houston-Price, C. (2017). How infants and young children learn about food: a systematic review. Frontiers in Psychology, 8, 1046.
Nash, H. M., & Snowling, M. J. (2008). Semantic and phonological fluency in children with Down syndrome: Atypical organization of language or less efficient retrieval strategies? Cognitive Neuropsychology, 25(5), 690703.
Nelson, K., & Nelson, A. P. (1990). Category production in response to script and category cues by kindergarten and second-grade children. Journal of Applied Developmental Psychology, 11(4), 431–46.
Nguyen, S. P., & Murphy, G. L. (2003). An apple is more than just a fruit: cross-classification in children's concepts. Child Development, 74(6), 1783–806.
Ojalehto, B. L., & Medin, D. L. (2015). Perspectives on culture and concepts. Annual Review of Psychology, 66, 249–75.
Packard, J. L. (2000). The morphology of Chinese: a linguistic and cognitive approach. Cambridge University Press.
Pekkala, S., Goral, M., Hyun, J., Obler, L. K., Erkinjuntti, T., & Albert, M. L. (2009). Semantic verbal fluency in two contrasting languages. Clinical Linguistics & Phonetics, 23(6), 431–45.
Peña, E. D., Bedore, L. M., & Zlatic-Giunta, R. (2002). Category-generation performance of bilingual children: the influence of condition, category, and language. Journal of Speech, Language, and Hearing Research, 45(5), 938–47.
R Core Team (2016). R: A language and environment for statistical computing. R Foundation for Statistical Computing, Vienna, Austria. Retrieved from <>.
Raboutet, C., Sauzéon, H., Corsini, M. M., Rodrigues, J., Langevin, S., & N'Kaoua, B. (2010). Performance on a semantic verbal fluency task across time: dissociation between clustering, switching, and categorical exploitation processes. Journal of Clinical and Experimental Neuropsychology, 32(3), 268–80.
Revelle, W. (1979). Hierarchical cluster analysis and the internal structure of tests. Multivariate Behavioral Research, 14, 5774.
Revelle, W. (2017) psych: procedures for personality and psychological research, Northwestern University, Evanston, Illinois, USA. Retrieved from <> Version = 1.7.8.
Rosch, E., Mervis, C. B., Gray, W., Johnson, D., & Boyes-Braem, P. (1976). Basic objects in natural categories. Cognitive Psychology, 8, 382439.
Ross, N., Medin, D., Coley, J. D., & Atran, S. (2003). Cultural and experiential differences in the development of folkbiological induction. Cognitive Development, 18(1), 2547.
Ruff, R. M., Light, R. H., Parker, S. B., & Levin, H. S. (1997). The psychological construct of word fluency. Brain and Language, 57(3), 394405.
Sackes, M., Trundle, K. C., & Flevares, L. M. (2009). Using children's literature to teach standard-based science concepts in early years. Early Childhood Education Journal, 36(5), 415–22.
Snow, C. E., & Beals, D. E. (2006). Mealtime talk that supports literacy development. New Directions for Child and Adolescent Development, 2006(111), 5166.
Tan, C. M., Wang, X., & Zhang, X. (2018). It's all in the stars: The Chinese zodiac and the effects of parental investments on offspring's cognitive and noncognitive skills development. IFPRI Discussion Paper 1708. International Food Policy Research Institute.
Taverna, A. S., Waxman, S. R., Medin, D. L., Moscoloni, N., & Peralta, O. A. (2014). Naming the living things: linguistic, experiential and cultural factors in Wichí and Spanish speaking children. Journal of Cognition and Culture, 14(3/4), 213–33.
White, T. G., Graves, M. F., & Slater, W. H. (1990). Growth of reading vocabulary in diverse elementary schools: decoding and word meaning. Journal of Educational Psychology, 82(2), 281–90.
Williams, R. S., Terry, N. P., & Metzger, I. (2013). Kid categories: a comparison of the category productions of LSES and MSES elementary school children. Communication Disorders Quarterly, 34(2), 7180.
Winkler-Rhoades, N., Medin, D., Waxman, S. R., Woodring, J., & Ross, N. O. (2010). Naming the animals that come to mind: effects of culture and experience on category fluency. Journal of Cognition and Culture, 10(1), 205–20.
Wu, C. C., & Honig, A. S. (2010). Taiwanese mothers’ beliefs about reading aloud with preschoolers: findings from the Parent Reading Belief Inventory. Early Child Development and Care, 180(5), 647–69.
Type Description Title
Supplementary materials

McGregor et al. supplementary material
McGregor et al. supplementary material 1

 Word (15 KB)
15 KB


Altmetric attention score

Full text views

Total number of HTML views: 0
Total number of PDF views: 0 *
Loading metrics...

Abstract views

Total abstract views: 0 *
Loading metrics...

* Views captured on Cambridge Core between <date>. This data will be updated every 24 hours.

Usage data cannot currently be displayed