Citekey: @hoff2002children

Hoff E and Naigles L (2002). “How children use input to acquire a lexicon.” Child development, 73(2), pp. 418-433.



The process of acquiring a lexicon is clearly a process of learning from experience, and the relevant experience must be conversational interaction, because that is the context in which exposure to language occurs. (p. 1)

The Social–Pragmatic View of the Role of Input (p. 1)

What do children find in conversation that is useful to word learning, and what is the nature of the word-learning mechanism that makes those particular things useful? (p. 1)

Two types of answers have been proposed. The first focuses on the social–pragmatic aspects of conversation and the social–cognitive abilities of children. According to this view children figure out the meaning of the words they hear to a substantial degree by inferring the speaker’s attentional focus and communicative intent (Akhtar & Tomasello, 2000; Baldwin, 2000). (p. 1)

The second answer focuses on the data-providing aspects of conversation, arguing that the lexical content and syntactic structure of the utterances themselves, along with the accompanying nonlinguistic context, provide considerable information that children use in figuring out word meaning (Carey, 1978; Gillette, Gleitman, Gleitman, & Lederer, 1999; Gleitman, 1990; Siskind, 1996). (p. 1)

These two proposals are not mutually exclusive. (p. 1)

In sum, it is clear from a substantial body of naturalistic evidence and one experimental demonstration that when mothers structure children’s experiences so that input is responsive to the children’s verbalizations and matches children’s attentional focus, vocabulary development benefits. (p. 2)

Empirical support for the notion that word learning is aided when the learner and speaker are mutually engaged is plentiful. (p. 2)

The Word-Learning Task, Divided into Three Parts (p. 3)

Current research and theory suggest that the process of word learning consists of at least the following three components: word segmentation; an initial fast mapping of the new word onto a referent; and a longer, extended process of completing the lexical entry. (p. 3)

it is worth noting that despite strong claims that language acquisition is a social process (e.g., Carpenter et al., 1998), there are components of language acquisition that social-process accounts have not addressed. (p. 3)

The initial fast mapping of a word results in only a partial lexical entry and is followed by a process in which the lexical entry is “completed slowly as the child encounters the word again and contrasts it with other words” (Carey, 1978, p. 292). (p. 4)

Measures (p. 7)

Two measures were selected to index the degree to which maternal speech was likely to be referentially transparent by virtue of the social engagement of mother and child. The first was the number of maternal utterances produced during episodes of joint attention. (p. 7)

The second measure of social engagement was the number of maternal utterances that were topiccontinuing replies to child speech, as an index of the contingency of maternal speech on child speech. (p. 8)

On the basis of these speech samples, the total number of word types produced by each child was calculated using SALT. This count of word types in a speech sample does not provide an estimate of the size of the children’s total vocabularies, but it does provide estimates of the variety of vocabulary that children use. Therefore, we investigated how social– pragmatic properties of mother–child conversation and the data-providing properties of the maternal utterances produced in these conversations compare in terms of predicting children’s vocabulary diversity within a given fixed sample, not their entire vocabulary size (p. 8)

Lastly, two other measures of the social–pragmatic aspects of interaction were calculated: (1) the number of maternal utterances judged to be behavior directives, and (2) the number of maternal utterances judged to be intended as conversation-eliciting questions. (p. 8)

On the other hand, the rich body of evidence on children’s capacities for joint attention and the evidence that time spent in joint attention predicts language development suggest that in the normal course of events, language acquisition is very much a social process. (p. 13)

The social nature of humans and human interaction appear to do two things for language acquisition. One, social interaction provides the motivation and occasion for language use and thus brings the child into the context in which language-advancing data are provided. Second, children’s social cognitive capacities to infer the intentions of others may actually provide data about word reference that is used by the computational mechanism. (p. 13)

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