The Semantic Network: Uncovering The Mechanisms that Build Organized Word Knowledge in Development

AbstractLanguage is rich in statistical regularities that capture meaningful, semantic links between words crucial for language fluency. Words that can be combined to express meaningful ideas (e.g., drink-soda) reliably directly co-occur together, and words similar in meaning share patterns of co-occurrence (e.g. soda and milk share co-occurrence with drink). Here, we investigate whether children (4-year-olds) and adults can capitalize on these regularities to form new semantic links between new and familiar words. Participants hear sentences in which new words directly co-occur or share co-occurrence with familiar words. We then assess the formation of corresponding semantic links using an implicit, gaze-based measure and an explicit labeling measure. Results suggest that new semantic links form only from direct co-occurrence in children, and from both direct and shared co-occurrence in adults. This research is therefore uncovering the development of mechanisms for building organized word knowledge from mere exposure to language.

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