Using Variability to Guide Dimensional Weighting: Associative Mechanisms in Early Word Learning
Article first published online: 24 MAY 2011
Copyright © 2011 Cognitive Science Society, Inc.
Volume 35, Issue 6, pages 1105–1138, August 2011
How to Cite
Apfelbaum, K. S. and McMurray, B. (2011), Using Variability to Guide Dimensional Weighting: Associative Mechanisms in Early Word Learning. Cognitive Science, 35: 1105–1138. doi: 10.1111/j.1551-6709.2011.01181.x
- Issue published online: 26 JUL 2011
- Article first published online: 24 MAY 2011
- Received 3 December 2009; received in revised form 22 November 2010; accepted 19 January 2011
- Associative learning;
- Word learning;
- Language development;
- Switch task;
- Phonological development;
At 14 months, children appear to struggle to apply their fairly well-developed speech perception abilities to learning similar sounding words (e.g., bih/dih; Stager & Werker, 1997). However, variability in nonphonetic aspects of the training stimuli seems to aid word learning at this age. Extant theories of early word learning cannot account for this benefit of variability. We offer a simple explanation for this range of effects based on associative learning. Simulations suggest that if infants encode both noncontrastive information (e.g., cues to speaker voice) and meaningful linguistic cues (e.g., place of articulation or voicing), then associative learning mechanisms predict these variability effects in early word learning. Crucially, this means that despite the importance of task variables in predicting performance, this body of work shows that phonological categories are still developing at this age, and that the structure of noninformative cues has critical influences on word learning abilities.