Why choo-choo is better than train: The role of register-specific words in early vocabulary growth

Mitsuhiko Ota, Nicola Davies-Jenkins, Barbora Skarabela

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

Abstract / Description of output

Across languages, lexical items specific to infant-directed speech (i.e., ‘baby-talk words’) are characterized by a preponderance of onomatopoeia (or highly iconic words), diminutives and reduplication. These lexical characteristics may help infants discover the referential nature of words, identify word referents, and segment fluent speech into words. If so, the amount of lexical input containing these properties should predict infants’ rate of vocabulary growth. To test this prediction, we tracked the vocabulary size in 47 English-learning infants from 9 to 21 months and examined whether the patterns of growth can be related to measures of iconicity, diminutives and reduplication in the lexical input at 9 months. Our analyses showed that both diminutives and reduplication in the input were associated with vocabulary growth although measures of iconicity were not. These results are consistent with the hypothesis that phonological properties typical of lexical input in infant-directed speech play a role in early vocabulary growth.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1974-1999
JournalCognitive Science: A Multidisciplinary Journal
Issue number6
Early online date11 Jul 2018
Publication statusPublished - 19 Aug 2018

Keywords / Materials (for Non-textual outputs)

  • infant-directed speech
  • vocabulary development
  • baby-talk words
  • iconicity
  • reduplication
  • diminutives


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