Mechanisms of word learning in children: Insights from fast mapping
AuthorMarkson, Lori Robin
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PublisherThe University of Arizona.
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AbstractChildren can learn aspects of the meaning of a new word on the basis of only a few incidental exposures and can retain this knowledge for a long time. The process of rapidly learning and remembering new words has come to be known as fast mapping. It is often maintained that fast mapping is the result of a dedicated language mechanism, but it is possible that this same capacity might apply in domains other than language learning. The present studies explore the nature of fast mapping, with the goal of revealing more about the mechanism underlying word learning in children. One possibility is that the capacity for word learning is mediated by a specialized language mechanism. A second view posits that all of language acquisition depends on more general cognitive processes. Alternatively, the acquisition of words and grammar may involve different mechanisms. To test these alternative proposals, children and adults were taught a new object name and an arbitrary fact about a novel object, and were tested for their retention immediately or after a delay. The findings revealed that fast mapping is not limited to word learning, suggesting that the capacity to learn and retain new words is the result of learning and memory abilities that are not specific to language. Three further studies then explored the specificity and development of the capacity for fast mapping. The implications of these findings for theories of word learning are discussed.
Degree ProgramGraduate College