Adjectives really do modify nouns: the incremental and restricted nature of early adjective acquisition.


By 24 months, most children spontaneously and correctly use adjectives. Yet prior laboratory research that has studied lexical acquisition in young children reports that children up to 3-years-old map novel adjectives to object properties only in very limited situations (Child Development 59 (1988) 411; Child Development 64 (1993) 1651; Child Development 71 (2000) 649; Developmental Psychology 36 (2000) 571; Child Development 69 (1998) 1313). In Experiments 1 and 2 we introduced 36-month-olds (Experiment 1) and 24-month-olds (Experiment 2) to novel adjectives while providing rich referential and syntactic information to indicate what the novel words mean. Specifically, we used a given novel adjective to describe multiple familiar objects which shared a salient property; in addition we used the adjectives in full noun phrases, not in conjunction with pronouns. Under these conditions, both groups mapped novel adjectives onto object properties. In Experiment 3 we asked whether the rich referential information was responsible for the successful outcome of the previous two experiments; we introduced novel adjectives to 2- and 3-year-olds as in Experiments 1 and 2, but the adjectives modified nouns of vague (very general) reference ("one", or "thing"). Under these conditions the children failed. We suggest that young word learners require access to the taxonomy of the object type so that the relevant property can be identified. The taxonomically specific nouns of Experiments 1 and 2 accomplish this, whereas the more general, semantically bleached nominals in Experiment 3 do not. Taken together with related findings in the literature, these findings favor an account of lexical acquisition in which layers of information become available incrementally, as a consequence of solving prior parts of the learning problem.


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@article{Mintz2002AdjectivesRD, title={Adjectives really do modify nouns: the incremental and restricted nature of early adjective acquisition.}, author={Toben H. Mintz and Lila R. Gleitman}, journal={Cognition}, year={2002}, volume={84 3}, pages={267-93} }