The role of discourse novelty in early word learning

N Akhtar, M Carpenter, M Tomasello

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

224 Citations (Scopus)


2 studies of word learning are reported. In Study 1, 24-month-old children and 2 adults played with 3 nameless objects. These objects were placed in a clear box along with a novel nameless object. The adults then displayed excitement about the contents of the box and modeled a new word. Comparison with a control condition indicated significant learning of the new word for the novel object. Study 2 followed the same procedure with one difference: the children played with the novel object while the adults were absent. Thus, at the time of the language model the target object was novel only to the adults, not to the children. Again subjects displayed significant learning of the new word. This last finding suggests that 24-month-old children understand that adults use language for things that are novel to the discourse context and that this novelty is determined from the speaker's point of view.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)635-645
JournalChild Development
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - Apr 1996




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