Daxing with a Dax: Evidence of Productive Lexical Structures in Children

Abstract

In English, many words can be used flexibly to label artifacts, as nouns, or functional uses of those artifacts, as verbs (e.g., we can shovel snow with a shovel). Here, we examine whether young children form generalizations about flexibility from early in life and use such generalizations to predict new word meanings. In Experiment 1, we show that children spontaneously expected a novel verb referring to an action to also refer to the instrumental artifact used to perform that action. In Experiment 2, we show that this pattern extends to words that label novel actions involving novel artifacts, suggesting that children expect any word for an action to label the artifact that helps carry out that action. Experiment 3 traces how such generalizations may arise in development. In particular, we show that while four- and five-year-olds each expect words to label artifacts and their functions, three-year- olds may not.


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