Word learning

Melissa A. Koenig, Amanda Woodward

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapter


Children pay special attention to people's intentional cues when learning new words, but it is possible to learn and recognize words in the absence of such cues. Word learning constitutes a "special" problem precisely because words constitute complex collections of properties. A word is a symbol. It is a linguistic unit with syntactic, morphological, and phonological properties. A word is a social convention. It is a type of intentional action that refers to a meaningful concept. This article explores children's acquisition of the essential properties of words, focusing both on the challenge of acquisition and on the generative effects of acquisition for further learning. Recent work has begun to explore the earliest roots of word knowledge, and has revealed that even at the dawn of word learning, young children bring to bear their knowledge not only of speakers' intentions but also their knowledge of the conventional and contrastive nature of linguistic symbols, the link between names and conceptual categories, and the probabilistic correspondences between syntax and semantics.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Title of host publicationThe Oxford Handbook of Psycholinguistics
EditorsG Gaskell
Place of PublicationOxford
PublisherOxford University Press
ISBN (Electronic)9780191743955
ISBN (Print)9780198568971
StatePublished - Sep 18 2012

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
© Oxford University Press 2007. All rights reserved.


  • Children
  • Intentional action
  • Semantics
  • Social convention
  • Symbol
  • Syntax
  • Word learning


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