COMD 4380 Lecture Notes - Lecture 10: Vocabulary Development, Phoneme, Zork

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22 Feb 2015
CH 4 Semantics (pgs 89-112)
Semantics is the study of language meaning, which can be expressed verbally, vocally,
and gesturally.
The more mature the speaker, the greater the range of words and word types the
speaker should be able to exhibit.
Children with semantic language disorders usually demonstrate limited vocabularies
and difficulty integrating semantic information with other aspects of language.
Semantic Development
1. What is a word?
A word is an arbitrary sign that signifies a reference or concept.
– Word equals “Kitty”; referent equals the animal; concept equals the meaning of Kitty,
the mental image brought to mind when the word kitty is heard or read
– There are two types of reference, iconic and symbolic
– iconic reference: a more direct connection of sign and reference
– very few words fall into this category, all onomatopoeic words are iconic
– symbolic reference: arbitrary connection of the sign and reference
– almost all words fall into this category
– concepts involvement representations that are social constructs not mental
– For example, the concept for the word kitty includes the knowledge that
a kitty has four, four legs, a tail, whiskers, and meows
Folklore approach to word meanings
– Even though arbitrary, some try to explain and/or rationalize words and their
meanings through folk etymologies
– Friday: Because it is the day you eat fish.
– Handkerchief: Because you hold it in your hand and go kerchoo.
– Thursday: Thor’s day
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Scientific approach to word meanings
– Our representation of word meaning is categorical (many different types of
exemplars can be represented by a single word). A symbolic representation of a
concept is a “complex” just like acoustical properties are a “complex” for
phoneme categories.
– For example, both “seat” and “chair” refer to the same concept
The relation between words and thought is debated; but most consider the two to be
–Concepts connect words and thoughts
– Whorfian hypothesis
– words determine how we think, so the separation between words and
thoughts is minimal
– alternative hypotheses
– words map onto our thoughts
– words and thoughts can be different
2. How do children map words to concepts?
Words can represent a classical concept or a probabilistic concept
– classical: there is only one set of features for a concept
– bachelor, triangle both only have one set of features and those concepts
only have one word that refers to them
– Probabilistic: subset of possible features for only that concept
– concept has many words that refer to it, ie both game and bird could be
used to describe wild turkey
3. Theories posed to explain young children’s acquisition of words.
1. learning theory
Associative learning
– Children learn words because caregiver provides label when referent is
– Children learn when there is Frequency and reinforcement associated with
the words (see
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– for example, if the caregiver regularly reads a book with a picture
of ducks in it, and always points out look, this is the duck the child
is more likely to readily learned that word
– likewise, if the caregiver asked the child what is this for planning
at the duck, and rewards the child for knowing that it is the duck,
they will learn that word faster
– Many argue that children couldn’t learn word-concept mapping so rapidly
with ONLY frequency and reinforcement
4,000 – 5,000 by 5 yrs
2,000 – 4,000 a year
40,000 to 50,000 words by high school
2. Developmental theories
Children begin with ontological categories (concepts about how the world is organized-
objects, actions, events, states, properties, relations) and then learn words by drawing
on skills in multiple domains.
–Categories include:
–Function of word
–Internal and external features denoted by word
–Relation between exemplars
–Ways word is used in language (syntactic bootstrapping)
–if you know more vocabulary words, you can have more and better social
interaction which leads to more vocabulary words
–Phonological content/prosody of word (segmentation)
Posited Principles/Lexical Principles of Developmental theories
1. Words refer to objects
2. Words refer to whole objects (Shape Bias)
3. Words can be extended to others in same category (Taxonomic Principal)
4. Each object has only one name (Principle of Mutual Exclusivity)
5. New words refer to things that don’t have a name yet (Novel Name-Nameless
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