Principles that are invoked in the acquisition of words, but not facts

Cognition. 2000 Nov 16;77(2):B33-43. doi: 10.1016/s0010-0277(00)00103-7.


A controversial question is whether language acquisition is the result of domain-general or domain-specific principles. Focusing on word-learning, Markson and Bloom (Nature 385(6619) (1997) 813) recently argued that the ability to learn and retain new words (count nouns) is the result of abilities that are not specific to language. In the current experiment, we replicate their empirical finding, but challenge their domain-general interpretation by highlighting a crucial distinction between the principles involved in learning a count noun, as compared to learning a fact. The current results confirm that learning count nouns and facts involve (at least) two common components: establishing a mapping to a designated individual, and retaining this mapping over time. However, these results go further to document that the processes invoked in the acquisition of words differ from those invoked in the acquisition of facts. Children spontaneously and systematically extended a novel count noun exclusively to other members of the same category, but revealed no such systematicity when extending a fact. This illustrates that there are principles that are invoked in learning a novel count noun that are not invoked in learning a fact.

Publication types

  • Clinical Trial
  • Randomized Controlled Trial
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Analysis of Variance
  • Chicago
  • Child, Preschool
  • Female
  • Generalization, Psychological
  • Humans
  • Language Development*
  • Learning*
  • Male
  • Psychological Theory
  • Time Factors