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Fourteen-month-olds’ decontextualized understanding of words for absent objects*

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  19 January 2016

Department of Speech, Language, and Hearing Sciences, San Diego State University, and Center for Research in Language, University of California, San Diego
Department of Linguistics, University of California Los Angeles


The majority of research examining infants’ decontextualized word knowledge comes from studies in which words and pictures are presented simultaneously. However, comprehending utterances about unseen objects is a hallmark of language. Do infants demonstrate decontextualized absent object knowledge early in the second year of life? Further, to what extent do words evoke strictly prototypical representations of absent objects? To investigate these questions we analyzed 14-month-olds’ comprehension of labels for absent entities without contextual support. In a novel, auditory–visual priming paradigm, infants heard passages containing two target words and then saw four animations – two that matched the meaning of the target words and two they had not heard in the passages. We found that by age 1;2, spoken words evoke prototypical representations of absent entities. Additionally, our findings demonstrate a promising new method for exploring absent object comprehension in infants.

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This research was supported by NSF BCS-0951639 to MS.


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