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Academic Paper


Title: Parents' use of conventional and unconventional labels in conversations with their preschoolers
Author: Annette M. E. Henderson
Institution: University of Auckland
Author: Mark A. Sabbagh
Institution: Queen's University
Linguistic Field: Language Documentation; Psycholinguistics
Abstract: Parents' use of conventional versus unconventional labels with their two- (n=12), three- (n=12) and four-year-old children (n=12) was assessed as they talked about objects that were either known or unknown to them. For known objects, parents provided typical conventional labels casually during the conversation. For unknown objects, parents were less likely to use typical nouns as labels and marked their labels with additional information suggesting that the labels might be unconventional. Parents marked potentially unconventional labels by providing explicit statements of ignorance and paralinguistic cues of uncertainty. These patterns were strongest when the unknown objects were manufactured as opposed to homemade, possibly because manufactured objects are supposed to have conventional names that parents were unable to provide. Parents' marking of unconventional labels may help children recognize when new word forms should be treated with caution and guide their learning accordingly.

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This article appears IN Journal of Child Language Vol. 37, Issue 4, which you can READ on Cambridge's site or on LINGUIST .



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