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ERIC Number: EJ1031491
Record Type: Journal
Publication Date: 2014
Pages: 32
Abstractor: As Provided
Reference Count: 60
ISSN: ISSN-1547-5441
Polysemy and the Taxonomic Constraint: Children's Representation of Words That Label Multiple Kinds
Srinivasan, Mahesh; Snedeker, Jesse
Language Learning and Development, v10 n2 p97-128 2014
How do children resolve the problem of indeterminacy when learning a new word? By one account, children adopt a "taxonomic assumption" and expect the word to denote only members of a particular taxonomic category. According to one version of this constraint, young children should represent polysemous words that label multiple kinds--for example, "chicken," which labels an animal and its meat--as separate and unrelated words that each encode a single kind. Our studies provide evidence against this account: we show that four- and five-year-old children spontaneously expect that a word that has labeled one meaning of a familiar polysemous word will also label its other, taxonomically different meaning. Further, we show that children's taxonomic flexibility is importantly constrained--children do not expect a word to label thematically-related meanings (e.g., "chicken" and "egg"), or the unrelated meanings of homophones (e.g., "bat"[animal] and "bat"[baseball]). We argue that although children are initially guided by the taxonomic constraint when pairing word forms with meanings, they nonetheless relate the taxonomically-different meanings of polysemous words within lexical structure. Thus, for even young children, a single word can label multiple kinds.
Psychology Press. Available from: Taylor & Francis, Ltd. 325 Chestnut Street Suite 800, Philadelphia, PA 19106. Tel: 800-354-1420; Fax: 215-625-2940; Web site:
Publication Type: Journal Articles; Reports - Research
Education Level: N/A
Audience: N/A
Language: English
Sponsor: N/A
Authoring Institution: N/A
Identifiers - Location: Massachusetts