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Do Novel Words Facilitate 18-Month-Olds’ Spatial Categorization?


  • This research was funded by a grant from the National Science Foundation (PECASE BCS-0349183), an R03 grant from the National Institute of Health (HD43941-01), and a Hatch award from the College of Human Ecology, Cornell University. Portions of this research were presented at the Tenth International Congress for the Study of Child Language, Berlin, Germany. We thank Anna Hays, Christen Kisch, Kristen Pallonetti, Sandy Kim, Hemi Na, Maggie Mirch, Michelle Findley, Amanda Purington, Karen Helfand, Emily Kishell, and Makeba Parramore Wilbourn at the Cornell Infant Studies lab for their assistance in participant recruitment and data collection. We wish to extend our sincere thanks to the parents and infants who generously gave off their time to participate in this research.

concerning this article should be addressed to Marianella Casasola, Department of Human Development, Cornell University, B51 MVR Hall, Ithaca, NY 14853. Electronic mail may be sent to


Eighteen-month-olds’ spatial categorization was tested when hearing a novel spatial word. Infants formed an abstract categorical representation of support (i.e., placing 1 object on another) when hearing a novel spatial particle during habituation but not when viewing the events in silence. Infants with a productive spatial vocabulary did not discriminate the support relation when hearing the same novel word as a count noun. However, infants who were not yet producing spatial words did attend to the support relation when presented with the novel count noun. The results indicate that 18-month-olds can use a novel particle (possibly assisted by a familiar verb) to facilitate their spatial categorization but that the specificity of this effect varies with infants’ acquisition of spatial language.