Infants greatly refine their ability to discriminate language sounds by 12 months, yet 14-month-olds appear to confuse similar-sounding novel words. Two explanations could account for this phenomenon: infants initially have incomplete phoneme representations, suggesting developmental discontinuity; or word-learning demands interfere with use of established phonetic detail. These hypotheses were tested at 14 months by pairing a novel word with an object preexposed to half the infants and novel to the other half. If demands are key, only preexposed infants should efficiently use phonetic detail; there is no need to concurrently learn object details with the word. If representations lack detail, object familiarity should not matter. Only infants preexposed to the object noticed a change in its label, thus challenging the discontinuity position and demonstrating the impact of object familiarity on early word learning.