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Infants' ability to consult the speaker for clues to word reference*

  • Dare A. Baldwin (a1)


This research examines whether infants actively seek information from a speaker regarding the referent of the speaker's utterance. Forty-eight infants (in three age groups: 1;2–1;3, 1;4–1;5, and 1;6–1;7) heard novel labels for novel objects in two situations: follow-in labelling (the experimenter looked at and labelled the toy of the infant's focus) vs. discrepant labelling (the experimenter looked at and labelled a different toy than that of the infant's focus). Subsequently, half of the infants were asked comprehension questions (e.g. ‘Where's the peri?’). The other half were asked preference questions (e.g. ‘Where's the one you like?’), to ensure that their comprehension performance was not merely the result of preferential responding. The comprehension results revealed developmental change in both (a) infants' ability to establish new word-object mappings (infants aged 1;2–1;3 failed to establish stable word-object links even in follow-in labelling), and (b) infants' ability to pinpoint the correct referent during discrepant labelling (only infants aged 1;6–1;7 succeeded). Thus the period between 1;2 and 1;7 represents a time of change in infants' ability to establish new word-object mappings: infants are becoming increasingly adept at acquiring new labels under minimal learning conditions.


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Address for correspondence: Department of Psychology, University of Oregon, Eugene, OR 97403, USA.


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This research was supported by a Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada Operating Grant. A portion of these results was presented in a symposium at the biennial meeting of the Society for Research on Child Development, Seattle, Washington, April, 1991. Many thanks to the parents and infants who participated; to Parmjit Sohi, Susan Gussie, Marina Russ, Tanya Gabille, Shelley Siegerist, Sasza Zawisza, Glynnis Tidball, Sarah Nowland and Karen Bopp for videotape coding and administrative help; to Janet Werker for her generous help with recruitment; and to Lou Moses, Renee Desjardins and anonymous reviewers for helpful comments concerning earlier drafts of this paper.



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Infants' ability to consult the speaker for clues to word reference*

  • Dare A. Baldwin (a1)


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