From uh-oh to tomorrow: Predicting age of acquisition for early words across languages


Why do children learn some words earlier than others? Regularities and differences in the age of acquisition for words across languages yield insights regarding the mechanisms guiding word learning. In a large-scale corpus analysis, we estimate the ages at which 9,200 children learn 300-400 words in seven languages, predicting them on the basis of independently-derived linguistic, environmental, and conceptual factors. Predictors were surprisingly consistent across languages, but varied across development and as a function of lexical category (e.g., concreteness predicted nouns while linguistic structure predicted function words). By leveraging data at a significantly larger scale than previous work, our analyses highlight the power that emerges from unifying previously disparate theories, but also reveal the amount of reliable variation that still remains unexplained.

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