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date: 17 November 2018

Abstract and Keywords

Learning words means gaining the ability not only to understand, but also to produce identifiable word forms and use them to make reference. Focusing on the first two years of life, this chapter considers the role of isolated words as well as segmentation in word-form learning, and also the role of vocal practice for production. It reviews alternative perspectives on the origins of concepts or categories of meaning and weighs the evidence for a “vocabulary spurt” or “nominal insight.” Self-action is found to be a powerful tool for perceptual processing of word forms, understanding referential intention, and retaining episodic memories. Changes related to the maturation of brain structures documented for declarative memory in other domains provide suggestive parallels to the processes of decontextualization of word meaning and reference, while word learning itself is seen to lead to a qualitative change in the learning process.

Keywords: conceptual category, isolated word learning, referential intention, self-action, vocal production

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