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WIREs Cogn Sci
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Number words, quantifiers, and principles of word learning

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Abstract How do children learn the meanings of words like many and five? Although much is known about the mechanisms that underlie children's acquisition of nouns and verbs, considerably less is understood of how children begin to learn the meanings of words that refer to sets (e.g., number words and quantifiers). Here we argue that children's acquisition of quantity expressions relies on learning mechanisms typically associated with learning content words. In particular, we argue that the Whole Object Assumption and the Principle of Contrast are special cases of more general principles that guide not just the acquisition of nouns and verbs, but also the acquisition and interpretation of number words and quantifiers. WIREs Cogni Sci 2011 2 639–645 DOI: 10.1002/wcs.140 This article is categorized under: Psychology > Language

Sample stimuli used to assess children's use of default units. For stimulus (a) children are asked, e.g., ‘Who has more boots?’ (and choose the one ‘broken’ boot); for stimulus (b) children are asked, e.g., ‘Count the forks’ (and count 5).

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Sample stimulus used in Barner, Brooks, and Bale (under review). All three animals are sleeping. When children were asked, “Are only some of the animals sleeping?” they said ‘yes’, but when asked, ‘Are only the cat and the cow sleeping?’, they said ‘no’.

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