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Abstract

We examine developmental interactions between context, exploration, and word learning. Infants show an understanding of how nonsolid substances are categorized that does not reliably transfer to learning how these categories are named in laboratory tasks. We argue that what infants learn about naming nonsolid substances is contextually bound – most nonsolids that toddlers are familiar with are foods and thus, typically experienced when sitting in a highchair. We asked whether 16-month-old children's naming of nonsolids would improve if they were tested in that typical context. Children tested in the highchair demonstrated better understanding of how nonsolids are named. Furthermore, context-based differences in exploration drove differences in the properties attended to in real-time. We discuss what implications this context-dependency has for understanding the development of an ontological distinction between solids and nonsolids. Together, these results demonstrate a developmental cascade between context, exploration, and word learning.