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Learning words: children disregard some pragmatic information that conflicts with mutual exclusivity.

Authors
  • Jaswal, Vikram K
  • Hansen, Mikkel B
Type
Published Article
Journal
Developmental science
Publication Date
Mar 01, 2006
Volume
9
Issue
2
Pages
158–165
Identifiers
PMID: 16472316
Source
Medline
License
Unknown

Abstract

Children tend to infer that when a speaker uses a new label, the label refers to an unlabeled object rather than one they already know the label for. Does this inference reflect a default assumption that words are mutually exclusive? Or does it instead reflect the result of a pragmatic reasoning process about what the speaker intended? In two studies, we distinguish between these possibilities. Preschoolers watched as a speaker pointed toward (Study 1) or looked at (Study 2) a familiar object while requesting the referent for a new word (e.g. 'Can you give me the blicket?'). In both studies, despite the speaker's unambiguous behavioral cue indicating an intent to refer to a familiar object, children inferred that the novel label referred to an unfamiliar object. These results suggest that children expect words to be mutually exclusive even when a speaker provides some kinds of pragmatic evidence to the contrary.

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