Children’s overextension as communication by multimodal chaining

AbstractYoung children often stretch terms to novel objects when they lack the proper adult words—a phenomenon known as overextension. Psychologists have proposed that overextension relies on the formation of a chain complex, such that new objects may be linked to existing referents of a word based on a diverse set of relations including taxonomic, analogical, and predicate-based knowledge. We build on these ideas by proposing a computational framework that creates chain complexes by multimodal fusion of resources from linguistics, deep learning networks, and psychological experiments. We test our models in a communicative scenario that simulates linguistic production and comprehension between a child and a caretaker. Our results show that the multimodal semantic space accounts for substantial variation in children’s overextension in the literature, and our framework predicts overextension strategies. This work provides a formal approach to characterizing linguistic creativity of word sense extension in early childhood.

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