What does it take to learn a word?

Larissa K. Samuelson, Bob McMurray

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

36 Citations (Scopus)
52 Downloads (Pure)


Vocabulary learning is deceptively hard, but toddlers often make it look easy. Prior theories proposed that children’s rapid acquisition of words is based on language-specific knowledge and constraints. In contrast, more recent work converges on the view that word learning proceeds via domain-general processes that are tuned to richly structured—not impoverished—input. We argue that new theoretical insights, coupled with methodological tools, have pushed the field toward an appreciation of simple, content-free processes working together as a system to support the acquisition of words. We illustrate this by considering three central phenomena of early language development: referential ambiguity, fast-mapping, and the vocabulary spurt.
Original languageEnglish
Article numbere1421
JournalWIREs Cognitive Science
Issue number1-2
Early online date1 Nov 2016
Publication statusPublished - Nov 2017

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