Children's sensitivity to phonological and semantic cues during noun class learning: Evidence for a phonological bias

Jennifer Culbertson, Hanna Jarvinen, Frances Haggarty, Kenneth Smith

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

Abstract

Previous research on the acquisition of noun classification systems (e.g., grammatical gender)has found that child learners rely disproportionately on phonological cues to determine the class of a new noun, even when competing semantic cues are more reliable in their language.Culbertson, Gagliardi, and Smith (2017) use artificial language learning experiments with adults to argue that this likely results from the early availability of phonological information during acquisition. Learners base their initial representations on formal features of nouns, only later integrating semantic cues from noun meanings. Here, we use these same methods to show that early availability affects cue use in children (6-7 year-olds) as well. However, we also find evidence of developmental changes in sensitivity to semantics; when both cues types are simultaneously available, children are more likely to rely on phonology than adults. Our results suggest that early availability and a bias favoring phonological cues both contribute to children’s over-reliance on phonology in natural language acquisition.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)268-293
JournalLanguage
Volume95
Issue number2
Early online date21 May 2019
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - Jun 2019

Keywords

  • language acquisition
  • gender
  • noun classification
  • artificial language learning
  • phonomogy
  • semantics

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