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Maternal labelling of novel and familiar objects: implications for children's development of lexical constraints

  • ELISE FRANK MASUR (a1)

Abstract

Mothers' provision of names for novel and familiar toy animals was examined during play interactions with 20 infants observed at ages 0;10, 1;1, 1;5, and 1;9. Of particular interest were characteristics of mothers' speech which might bear on children's development of lexical principles or constraints. Analyses demonstrated that mothers facilitated their children's determination of reference and differentially adjusted their naming practices to novel, comprehended, and familiar animals. They virtually always named the whole object first. More important, the first mention of novel, but not comprehended or familiar animals involved both maternal naming and physical designation of the object 92% or more of the time. Thus, although a novel word's referent may be indeterminate logically, mothers specify it practically. These results support the position that maternal labelling practices may assist children in acquiring lexical principles and that lexical acquisition, perhaps even the vocabulary spurt, can proceed during natural conversational interactions before infants master lexical principles.

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Corresponding author

Address for correspondence: Elise Frank Masur, Department of Psychology, Northern Illinois University, DeKalb, IL 60115, USA. e-mail: efmasur@niu.edu.

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A preliminary version of this paper was presented at the 23rd Annual Symposium of The Jean Piaget Society, Chicago, Illinois, June, 1994. An abbreviated version was also presented at the 28th annual Child Language Research Forum, Stanford, California, April, 1996. Data analysis was supported by a sabbatical leave from Northern Illinois University. I wish to thank the mothers and children who participated in this study, the many students who assisted in various aspects of the project, and two anonymous reviewers for their helpful comments.

Footnotes

Maternal labelling of novel and familiar objects: implications for children's development of lexical constraints

  • ELISE FRANK MASUR (a1)

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