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Review of  Weaving a Lexicon

Reviewer: Xin Wang
Book Title: Weaving a Lexicon
Book Author: D. Geoffrey Hall Sandra R. Waxman
Publisher: MIT Press
Linguistic Field(s): Language Acquisition
Issue Number: 15.1865

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Date: Fri, 18 Jun 2004 01:38:37 -0700
From: Wang, Xin
Subject: Weaving a Lexicon

EDITOR: Hall, D. Geoffrey; Waxman, Sandra R.
TITLE: Weaving a Lexicon
SERIES: Bradford Books
YEAR: 2004

Xin Wang, University of Arizona

This book presents 19 chapters written by leading scholars in the field
of lexical acquisition, which are divided into two sections: initial
acquisitions and later acquisitions. The first section mainly includes
research with infant participants and the second with toddler and
preschooler participants. In the authors' view, lexical acquisition,
like weaving together many different threads of knowledge and skill,
involves perceptual (visual and auditory) sensitivities, general
associative-learning mechanisms, conceptual and semantic constraints,
an appreciation of lexical form class, and a rich understanding of
communicative intent. In addition, children may adopt some abilities
and understandings more heavily at some developmental stages than at
others. Importantly, the authors suggest the research trend of the
field should aim to discover precisely ''which threads of ability or
understanding make which contributions to acquisition at which points
during infancy and childhood''.

Part I: Initial Acquisition

Chapter 1: 'Learning to Identify Spoken Words' by Cynthia Fisher,
Barbara A. Church, and Kyle E. Chambers. It is argued that phonological
representations in the mental lexicon are not so abstract, either for
adults or for young children. Learners need to encode detailed and
context-sensitive representations of language experience in order to
learn the sound system of the native language. Data from different
sources also suggest the continuity across development of the implicit
learning and memory mechanisms relevant to speech processing. The
authors further indicate that spoken word recognition is operated at
multiple levels, closely relevant to language use.

Chapter 2: 'The Identification of Words and Their Meanings: From
Perceptual Biases to Language-Specific Cues' by Catharine H. Echols and
C. Nathan Marti. This chapter devotes to two fundamental problems
encountered during the child language development: identifying words
and other linguistic units in the stream of speech and determining how
to associate those words and other linguistic units with appropriate
real-world referents. To solve both problems, evidence shows that
children seem to start out with a set of predispositions that direct
them to attend to perceptually salient syllables, rhythm, and pitch
patterns in segmentation; and to objects and consistency in acquiring
word meaning. According to the authors, these predispositions are
shaped and expanded on the basis of children's developing sensitivities
to characteristics of the native language.

Chapter 3: 'Listening to Sounds versus Listening to Words: Early Steps
in Word Learning' by Janet F. Werker and Christopher Fennell. A series
of experiments presented in this chapter do not show infants are able
to immediately use surface phonological cues while mapping word forms
onto meaning. The authors argue that this difficulty is due to resource
limitations, and suggest that there is continuity between prelexical
categories and the representations available for use in word learning.

Chapter 4: 'Perceptual Units and Their Mapping with Language: How
Children Can (or Can't') Use Perception to Learn Words' by Barbara
Landau. Focusing on objects and object parts, this chapter is dealing
with mapping between perception and language, which is surprisingly
complex. In Landau's view, children need to recruit both linguistic and
non-linguistic representations in word learning and the mapping is
operated over levels, binding together the corresponding aspects of
each representation.

Chapter 5: 'Infants' Use of Action Knowledge to Get a Grasp on Words'
by Amanda L. Woodward. Woodward presents evidence showing infants are
able to analyze the relational structure of action by the end of the
first year. The general associative model does not reveal the
complexities of the word learning process. It is concluded that infants
use their developing understanding of intentional action to interpret

Chapter 6: 'Hybrid Theories at the Frontier of Developmental
Psychology: The Emergentist Coalition Model of Word Learning as a Case
in Point' by Kathy Hirsh-Pasek, Roberta Michnick Golinkoff, Elizabeth
A. Hennon, and Mandy J. Maguire. The Emergentist Coalition Model of
Word Learning proposed in this chapter embraces the complexity of word
learning, incorporating a variety of factors because children are
likely to attend to social, attentional, cognitive, and linguistic cues
while learning words in the real world. Thus different sources of
knowledge (constraints, social-pragmatic understanding, and associative
abilities) are recruited in acquiring a lexicon during the first two

Chapter 7: 'Myths of Word Learning' by Paul Bloom. Bloom critically
explores three popular myths in lexical acquisition and presents a
theory that emphasizes the importance of several capacities --
conceptual abilities, theory of mind, and grammatical form class
sensitivity -- in early word learning.

Chapter 8: 'Lexical Development without a Language Model: Are Nouns,
Verbs, and Adjectives Essential to the Lexicon?' by Susan Goldin-
Meadow. In this chapter, Meadow investigates whether the deaf
children's systems have gestural lexicons that are structured like the
lexicons found in conventional languages. Evidence shows that the
gesture systems of these learners contain categories that function like
nouns, verbs, and adjectives.

Chapter 9: 'Why It Is Hard to Label Our Concepts' by Jesse Snedeker and
Lila R. Gleitman. The authors present evidence of noun dominance in
early vocabularies and the concreteness of children's early verbs. They
propose that the observed changes in children's lexicons during the
first year of life stem from children's growing command of the
semantically relevant syntax of their language. The implication of this
proposal is that vocabulary learning may reduce largely to a mapping

Chapter 10: 'Everything Had a Name, and Each Name Gave Birth to a New
Thought: Links between Early Word Learning and Conceptual Organization'
by Sandra R. Waxman. Waxman articulates a developmental view of the
powerful and dynamic link between word learning and conceptual
organization: initial word learning is equipped with a broad
expectation linking novel words to a wide range of commonalities among
named objects; and this expectation evolves into the more finely tuned
expectations linking particular types of words (e.g., nouns,
adjectives) with particular types of meaning (e.g., object categories,
object properties).

Part II: Later Acquisition

Chapter 11: 'Preschoolers' Use and Misuse of Part-of-Speech Information
in Word Learning: Implications for Lexical Development' by D. Geoffrey
Hall and Tracy A. Lavin. The authors argue that, in addition to
sensitivity to part-of-speech information, preschoolers use certain
default assumptions to interpret words under particular conditions as
possessing particular types of meaning and as whether to belong to
particular part-of-speech categories. This argument implies that
default assumptions could assist children in acquiring knowledge of how
part-of-speech categories are expressed in their language.

Chapter 12: 'Acquiring and Using a Grammatical Form Class: Lessons from
the Proper-Count Distinction' by Ellen M. Markman and Vikram K. Jaswal.
By examining the learning of the distinction between proper names and
count nouns, the authors explore issues of the acquisition of a
grammatical form class in the first place and its subsequent use to
foster lexical acquisition. They also present work implying that
indirect or inferential wording learning can be as compelling as
learning through direct ostensive instruction.

Chapter 13: 'The Nature of Word-Learning Biases and Their Roles for
Lexical Development: From a Crosslinguistic Perspective' by Mutsumi
Imai and Etsuko Haryu. On the basis of the research on word learning in
Japanese-speaking preschoolers, this chapter argues the proposed word
learning biases/principles play an important role in efficient word
learning, but may not be innately endowed constraints. Importantly,
they speculate that children gain flexibility in the use of the biases
as they become more experienced word learners and eventually override
the biases using other sources of information.

Chapter 14: 'Learning Words for Kinds: Generic Noun Phrases in
Acquisition' by Susan A. Gelman. Gelman proposes that children employ
multiple sources of knowledge (syntactic, pragmatic, and general world
knowledge) to acquire generic language, since the multiple cues provide
a variety of means of indicating specificity. On the other hand, the
generic language itself supports children's acquisition of generic

Chapter 15: 'Contexts of Early Word Learning' by Nameera Akhtar. The
studies reviewed in this chapter reveal young children succeed to
acquire words (object labels, verbs, adjectives) in a wide variety of
learning contexts because they are attuned to a number of pragmatic
cues to intended meaning.

Chapter 16: 'Converging on Word Meaning' by Megan M. Saylor, Dare A.
Baldwin, and Mark A. Sabbagh. This chapter examines the relation
between children's word-learning skills (ability to acquire nouns for
object parts) and the input they receive (whole- versus part-label
juxtaposition) and finds that input regularities converging with
pragmatic skills were crucial to enable young children to interpret a
novel word as referring to a part or even extend beyond the part-term
learning domain into others.

Chapter 17: 'The Role of Comparison in Children's Early Word Learning'
by Dedre Gentner and Laura L. Namy. Focusing on comparison processing
(structural alignment and mapping), Gentner and Namy argue that general
learning mechanisms play a significant role in lexical acquisition.

Chapter 18: 'Keeping Verb Acquisition in Motion: A Comparison of
English and Spanish' by Jill M. Hohenstein, Letitia R. Naigles, and Ann
R. Eisenberg. In this chapter, the authors focus on how children learn
language-specific lexical-semantic patterns of motion-verb knowledge
and use. They find the acquisition of language-specific syntax comes
first, whereas the acquisition of language-specific lexicalization
patterns arrives much latter in development.

Chapter 19: 'Kidz in the 'Hood: Syntactic Bootstrapping and the Mental
Lexicon' by Jeffrey Lidz, Henry Gleitman, and Lila R. Gleitman. In this
chapter, the authors explore grammatical architecture regarding
relations between clause structures and classes of verb meanings and
defend the view that verbs project their semantics onto clause
structures in fixed ways. They further suggest certain latitude in the
system that allows children to extend the use of known verbs in new
environments, as long as these extensions are in the 'neighborhood'.

This book volume is a rich and valuable collection of the up-dated data
and discussions of multidimensional ways in which infants and children
acquire the lexicon of their native language. It can serve as a good
reference for scholars and graduate students who are interested in and
working on this area. Meanwhile, each chapter suggests the new
direction of research in this field.

On the whole, the chapter contributors and editors center on the idea
that research trend in lexical acquisition should not adopt 'either-or'
approaches, in which a single model cannot explain word learning from
infancy throughout childhood. Instead, researchers should progress
beyond 'all-inclusive' approaches and develop new methods that allow
for simultaneous manipulation of multiple cues. Each chapter is
carefully and wisely situated within the broader context that lexical
acquisition results from the interactions among multiple types of skill
and knowledge. Additionally, throughout all the chapters, the reader
will be able to discern theories of convergence and divergence and thus
gain insight into the current stage of this discipline.

Most chapters are devoted to the acquisition of English words. I would
certainly hope to see additions of other languages (esp. language with
very different syntactic cues with English, like non-Indo-European
languages) as data become available. As more data are coming from other
languages, it can be more fully integrated to enrich or complete the
Xin Wang is a PhD student enrolled in the Second Language Acquisition
and Teaching program at the University of Arizona. She has a Master in
English Language and Linguistics from the University of Arizona. Her
research interest is in L2/Bilingual Lexical Processing and Second
Language Acquisition.

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