LINGUIST List 15.1865

Sat Jun 19 2004

Review: Language Acquisition: Hall & Waxman (2004)

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  1. Wang, Xin, Weaving a Lexicon

Message 1: Weaving a Lexicon

Date: Sat, 19 Jun 2004 14:46:13 -0400 (EDT)
From: Wang, Xin <>
Subject: Weaving a Lexicon

EDITOR: Hall, D. Geoffrey; Waxman, Sandra R.
TITLE: Weaving a Lexicon
SERIES: Bradford Books
YEAR: 2004
Announced at

Xin Wang, University of Arizona


This book presents 19 chapters written by leading scholars in the
field of lexical acquisition, which are divided into two sections:
initial acquisitions and later acquisitions. The first section mainly
includes research with infant participants and the second with toddler
and preschooler participants. In the authors' view, lexical
acquisition, like weaving together many different threads of knowledge
and skill, involves perceptual (visual and auditory) sensitivities,
general associative-learning mechanisms, conceptual and semantic
constraints, an appreciation of lexical form class, and a rich
understanding of communicative intent. In addition, children may adopt
some abilities and understandings more heavily at some developmental
stages than at others. Importantly, the authors suggest the research
trend of the field should aim to discover precisely ''which threads of
ability or understanding make which contributions to acquisition at
which points during infancy and childhood''.


Part I: Initial Acquisition

Chapter 1: 'Learning to Identify Spoken Words' by Cynthia Fisher,
Barbara A. Church, and Kyle E. Chambers. It is argued that
phonological representations in the mental lexicon are not so
abstract, either for adults or for young children. Learners need to
encode detailed and context-sensitive representations of language
experience in order to learn the sound system of the native
language. Data from different sources also suggest the continuity
across development of the implicit learning and memory mechanisms
relevant to speech processing. The authors further indicate that
spoken word recognition is operated at multiple levels, closely
relevant to language use.

Chapter 2: 'The Identification of Words and Their Meanings: From
Perceptual Biases to Language-Specific Cues' by Catharine H. Echols
and C. Nathan Marti. This chapter devotes to two fundamental problems
encountered during the child language development: identifying words
and other linguistic units in the stream of speech and determining how
to associate those words and other linguistic units with appropriate
real-world referents. To solve both problems, evidence shows that
children seem to start out with a set of predispositions that direct
them to attend to perceptually salient syllables, rhythm, and pitch
patterns in segmentation; and to objects and consistency in acquiring
word meaning. According to the authors, these predispositions are
shaped and expanded on the basis of children's developing
sensitivities to characteristics of the native language.

Chapter 3: 'Listening to Sounds versus Listening to Words: Early Steps
in Word Learning' by Janet F. Werker and Christopher Fennell. A series
of experiments presented in this chapter do not show infants are able
to immediately use surface phonological cues while mapping word forms
onto meaning. The authors argue that this difficulty is due to
resource limitations, and suggest that there is continuity between
prelexical categories and the representations available for use in
word learning.

Chapter 4: 'Perceptual Units and Their Mapping with Language: How
Children Can (or Can't') Use Perception to Learn Words' by Barbara
Landau. Focusing on objects and object parts, this chapter is dealing
with mapping between perception and language, which is surprisingly
complex. In Landau's view, children need to recruit both linguistic
and non-linguistic representations in word learning and the mapping is
operated over levels, binding together the corresponding aspects of
each representation.

Chapter 5: 'Infants' Use of Action Knowledge to Get a Grasp on Words'
by Amanda L. Woodward. Woodward presents evidence showing infants are
able to analyze the relational structure of action by the end of the
first year. The general associative model does not reveal the
complexities of the word learning process. It is concluded that
infants use their developing understanding of intentional action to
interpret words.

Chapter 6: 'Hybrid Theories at the Frontier of Developmental
Psychology: The Emergentist Coalition Model of Word Learning as a Case
in Point' by Kathy Hirsh-Pasek, Roberta Michnick Golinkoff, Elizabeth
A. Hennon, and Mandy J. Maguire. The Emergentist Coalition Model of
Word Learning proposed in this chapter embraces the complexity of word
learning, incorporating a variety of factors because children are
likely to attend to social, attentional, cognitive, and linguistic
cues while learning words in the real world. Thus different sources of
knowledge (constraints, social-pragmatic understanding, and
associative abilities) are recruited in acquiring a lexicon during the
first two years.

Chapter 7: 'Myths of Word Learning' by Paul Bloom. Bloom critically
explores three popular myths in lexical acquisition and presents a
theory that emphasizes the importance of several capacities --
conceptual abilities, theory of mind, and grammatical form class
sensitivity -- in early word learning.

Chapter 8: 'Lexical Development without a Language Model: Are Nouns,
Verbs, and Adjectives Essential to the Lexicon?' by Susan Goldin-
Meadow. In this chapter, Meadow investigates whether the deaf
children's systems have gestural lexicons that are structured like the
lexicons found in conventional languages. Evidence shows that the
gesture systems of these learners contain categories that function
like nouns, verbs, and adjectives.

Chapter 9: 'Why It Is Hard to Label Our Concepts' by Jesse Snedeker
and Lila R. Gleitman. The authors present evidence of noun dominance
in early vocabularies and the concreteness of children's early
verbs. They propose that the observed changes in children's lexicons
during the first year of life stem from children's growing command of
the semantically relevant syntax of their language. The implication of
this proposal is that vocabulary learning may reduce largely to a
mapping problem.

Chapter 10: 'Everything Had a Name, and Each Name Gave Birth to a New
Thought: Links between Early Word Learning and Conceptual
Organization' by Sandra R. Waxman. Waxman articulates a developmental
view of the powerful and dynamic link between word learning and
conceptual organization: initial word learning is equipped with a
broad expectation linking novel words to a wide range of commonalities
among named objects; and this expectation evolves into the more finely
tuned expectations linking particular types of words (e.g., nouns,
adjectives) with particular types of meaning (e.g., object categories,
object properties).

Part II: Later Acquisition

Chapter 11: 'Preschoolers' Use and Misuse of Part-of-Speech
Information in Word Learning: Implications for Lexical Development' by
D. Geoffrey Hall and Tracy A. Lavin. The authors argue that, in
addition to sensitivity to part-of-speech information, preschoolers
use certain default assumptions to interpret words under particular
conditions as possessing particular types of meaning and as whether to
belong to particular part-of-speech categories. This argument implies
that default assumptions could assist children in acquiring knowledge
of how part-of-speech categories are expressed in their language.

Chapter 12: 'Acquiring and Using a Grammatical Form Class: Lessons
from the Proper-Count Distinction' by Ellen M. Markman and Vikram
K. Jaswal. By examining the learning of the distinction between
proper names and count nouns, the authors explore issues of the
acquisition of a grammatical form class in the first place and its
subsequent use to foster lexical acquisition. They also present work
implying that indirect or inferential wording learning can be as
compelling as learning through direct ostensive instruction.

Chapter 13: 'The Nature of Word-Learning Biases and Their Roles for
Lexical Development: From a Crosslinguistic Perspective' by Mutsumi
Imai and Etsuko Haryu. On the basis of the research on word learning
in Japanese-speaking preschoolers, this chapter argues the proposed
word learning biases/principles play an important role in efficient
word learning, but may not be innately endowed
constraints. Importantly, they speculate that children gain
flexibility in the use of the biases as they become more experienced
word learners and eventually override the biases using other sources
of information.

Chapter 14: 'Learning Words for Kinds: Generic Noun Phrases in
Acquisition' by Susan A. Gelman. Gelman proposes that children employ
multiple sources of knowledge (syntactic, pragmatic, and general world
knowledge) to acquire generic language, since the multiple cues
provide a variety of means of indicating specificity. On the other
hand, the generic language itself supports children's acquisition of
generic knowledge.

Chapter 15: 'Contexts of Early Word Learning' by Nameera Akhtar. The
studies reviewed in this chapter reveal young children succeed to
acquire words (object labels, verbs, adjectives) in a wide variety of
learning contexts because they are attuned to a number of pragmatic
cues to intended meaning.

Chapter 16: 'Converging on Word Meaning' by Megan M. Saylor, Dare A.
Baldwin, and Mark A. Sabbagh. This chapter examines the relation
between children's word-learning skills (ability to acquire nouns for
object parts) and the input they receive (whole- versus part-label
juxtaposition) and finds that input regularities converging with
pragmatic skills were crucial to enable young children to interpret a
novel word as referring to a part or even extend beyond the part-term
learning domain into others.

Chapter 17: 'The Role of Comparison in Children's Early Word Learning'
by Dedre Gentner and Laura L. Namy. Focusing on comparison processing
(structural alignment and mapping), Gentner and Namy argue that
general learning mechanisms play a significant role in lexical

Chapter 18: 'Keeping Verb Acquisition in Motion: A Comparison of
English and Spanish' by Jill M. Hohenstein, Letitia R. Naigles, and
Ann R. Eisenberg. In this chapter, the authors focus on how children
learn language-specific lexical-semantic patterns of motion-verb
knowledge and use. They find the acquisition of language-specific
syntax comes first, whereas the acquisition of language-specific
lexicalization patterns arrives much latter in development.

Chapter 19: 'Kidz in the 'Hood: Syntactic Bootstrapping and the Mental
Lexicon' by Jeffrey Lidz, Henry Gleitman, and Lila R. Gleitman. In
this chapter, the authors explore grammatical architecture regarding
relations between clause structures and classes of verb meanings and
defend the view that verbs project their semantics onto clause
structures in fixed ways. They further suggest certain latitude in the
system that allows children to extend the use of known verbs in new
environments, as long as these extensions are in the 'neighborhood'.


This book volume is a rich and valuable collection of the up-dated
data and discussions of multidimensional ways in which infants and
children acquire the lexicon of their native language. It can serve as
a good reference for scholars and graduate students who are interested
in and working on this area. Meanwhile, each chapter suggests the new
direction of research in this field.

On the whole, the chapter contributors and editors center on the idea
that research trend in lexical acquisition should not adopt
'either-or' approaches, in which a single model cannot explain word
learning from infancy throughout childhood. Instead, researchers
should progress beyond 'all-inclusive' approaches and develop new
methods that allow for simultaneous manipulation of multiple
cues. Each chapter is carefully and wisely situated within the broader
context that lexical acquisition results from the interactions among
multiple types of skill and knowledge. Additionally, throughout all
the chapters, the reader will be able to discern theories of
convergence and divergence and thus gain insight into the current
stage of this discipline.

Most chapters are devoted to the acquisition of English words. I would
certainly hope to see additions of other languages (esp. language with
very different syntactic cues with English, like non-Indo-European
languages) as data become available. As more data are coming from
other languages, it can be more fully integrated to enrich or complete
the analyses.


Xin Wang is a PhD student enrolled in the Second Language Acquisition
and Teaching program at the University of Arizona. She has a Master in
English Language and Linguistics from the University of Arizona. Her
research interest is in L2/Bilingual Lexical Processing and Second
Language Acquisition.
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