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Child Language Acquisition

2. Vocabulary

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In this module, we think about learn the meaning of new words, focusing in particular on: (i) the difficulty of determining the meaning of words: W. V. Quine’s example of the word “gavagai” uttered by a native speaker of an unknown language upon seeing a rabbit – does “gavagai” mean ‘rabbit’, ‘food’, ‘running’?; (ii) the view that children must have certain biases or assumptions that enable them to hone in on the correct meaning of the word – the whole object assumption, the mutual exclusivity assumption, and the taxonomic assumption; (iii) studies demonstrating each of these assumptions; (iv) examples where these assumptions do not hold, e.g. the fact that children will readily apply different words to the same object (‘dog’, ‘pet’, ‘animal’, ‘friend’); (v) the social-pragmatic theory of word learning, and the concepts of ‘joint attention’ and ‘communicative intention’; and (vi) studies demonstrating each of these concepts, especially the work of D. A. Baldwin.


In this course, Professor Ben Ambridge (University of Liverpool) explores childhood language acquisition. In the first module, we explore how children learn to distinguish the basic sounds (phonemes) that make up their mother tongue. In the second module, we think about how children learn new words, before turning in the third module to explore how children learn the rules of morphology – and how we can test for that understanding. In the fourth module, we think about how children learn the rules of syntax, before moving on in the fifth module to a general timeline of child language acquisition from the middle of the second trimester to five years old.


Professor Ben Ambridge is Professor of Psychological Sciences at the University of Liverpool. His research focuses on children's first language acquisition, mostly using judgment and production methodologies. He is particularly interested in children's errors involving question formation (e.g., *What he doesn't like?) and verb argument structure overgeneralization errors (e.g., *The joked giggled him; *I falled over). Among many academic publications, he is also the author of the popular science book Psy-Q, Are You Smarter than a Chimpanzee? (2014).

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APA style

Ambridge, B. (2021, January 05). Child Language Acquisition - Vocabulary [Video]. MASSOLIT.

MLA style

Ambridge, Ben. "Child Language Acquisition – Vocabulary." MASSOLIT, uploaded by MASSOLIT, 05 Jan 2021,

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