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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)...

Abstract

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.

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Copyright

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: karla-mcgregor@uiowa.edu

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