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WIREs Cogn Sci
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What does it take to learn a word?

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Vocabulary learning is deceptively hard, but toddlers often make it look easy. Prior theories proposed that children's rapid acquisition of words is based on language‐specific knowledge and constraints. In contrast, more recent work converges on the view that word learning proceeds via domain‐general processes that are tuned to richly structured—not impoverished—input. We argue that new theoretical insights, coupled with methodological tools, have pushed the field toward an appreciation of simple, content‐free processes working together as a system to support the acquisition of words. We illustrate this by considering three central phenomena of early language development: referential ambiguity, fast‐mapping, and the vocabulary spurt. WIREs Cogn Sci 2017, 8:e1421. doi: 10.1002/wcs.1421

A typical preschool classroom features many potential referents for a new word.
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Number of words known as a function of time for individual children. (Adapted from Ref . Copyright 1993 Cambridge University Press)
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Differences in the number of namable objects in view from the child's (a) and parent's (b) perspective.
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