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Taking stock as theories of word learning take shape


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    As a result, we are unsurprised by recent data (Colunga & Smith, 2004) showing that 3-year-olds’ word extensions were also affected by hearing a disconnected list of the content words that were pulled from our vignettes. In our view, children do so because they are influenced by the meaning of these words. Although presenting the words in narrative context likely facilitates access to these meanings, presenting them in isolation does not divorce the words from their meanings.

Address for correspondence: Amy Booth, Northwestern University, Roxelyn and Richard Pepper Department of Communication Sciences & Disorders, 2240 Campus Drive, Evanston, IL 60208-3540, USA; e-mail:


In this paper we consider the perceptual and conceptual contributions that shape early word learning, using research on the shape bias as a case in point. In our view, conceptual, linguistic, social-pragmatic, and perceptual sources of information influence one another powerfully and continuously in the service of word learning throughout infancy and early childhood. We articulate several key points of convergence and divergence between our theoretical perspective and that of the attentional learning account. Finally, we consider the broader implications of this debate for clarifying the forces that constrain development.