Slowing down fast mapping: Redefining the dynamics of word learning

Sarah C. Kucker, Bob McMurray, Larissa K. Samuelson

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

68 Citations (Scopus)
26 Downloads (Pure)


In this article, we review literature on word learning and propose a theoretical account of how lexical knowledge and word use emerge and develop over time. We contend that the developing lexical system is built on processes that support children's in-the-moment word usage interacting with processes that create long-term learning. We argue for a new characterization of word learning in which simple mechanisms like association and competition, and the interaction between the two, guide children's selection of referents and word use in the moment. This in turn strengthens and refines the network of relationships in the lexicon, improving referent selection and use in future encounters with words. By integrating in-the-moment word use with long-term learning through simple domain-general mechanisms, this account highlights the dynamic nature of word learning and creates a broader framework for understanding language and cognitive development more generally.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)74-78
Number of pages5
JournalChild Development Perspectives
Issue number2
Early online date12 Mar 2015
Publication statusPublished - 1 Jun 2015


  • word learning
  • fast mapping
  • language development

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