They call it like they see it: Spontaneous naming and attention to shape

Larissa K Samuelson, Linda B Smith

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68 Citations (Scopus)


Two experiments explore children's spontaneous labeling of novel objects as a method to study early lexical access. The experiments also provide new evidence on children's attention to object shape when labeling objects. In Experiment 1, the spontaneous productions of 21 23- to 28-month-olds (mean 26;28) shown a set of novel, unnamed objects were analyzed both in terms of the specific words said and, via adult judgments, their likely perceptual basis. We found that children's spontaneous names were cued by the perceptual feature of shape. Experiment 2 examines the relation between spontaneous productions, name generalizations in a structured task, and vocabulary development in a group of children between 17 and 24 months of age (mean 21;6). Results indicate that object shape plays an important role in both spontaneous productions and novel noun generalization, but contrary to current hypotheses, children may name objects by shape from the earliest points of productive vocabulary development and this tendency may not be lexically specific.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)182-198
Number of pages17
JournalDevelopmental Science
Issue number2
Early online date21 Feb 2005
Publication statusPublished - Mar 2005


  • Attention
  • Concept Formation
  • Discrimination Learning
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Infant
  • Language Development
  • Male
  • Pattern Recognition (Visual)
  • Photic Stimulation
  • Psychology (Child)
  • Vocabulary

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