The challenge of relational referents in early word extensions: Evidence from noun-noun compounds.

Simon Snape, Andrea Krott

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Abstract

Young children struggle more with mapping novel words onto relational referents (e.g., verbs) compared to non-relational referents (e.g., nouns). We present further evidence for this notion by investigating children’s extensions of noun-noun compounds, which map onto combinations of non-relational referents, i.e. objects (e.g., baby and bottle for baby bottle), and relations (e.g., a bottle FOR babies). We tested two- to five-year-olds’ and adults’ generalisations of novel compounds composed of novel (e.g., kig donka) or familiar (e.g., star hat) nouns that were combined by one of two relations (e.g., donka that has a kig attached (=attachment relation) versus donka that stores a kig (=function relation)). Participants chose between a relational (shared relation) and a non-relational (same colour) match. Results showed a developmental shift from encoding non-relational aspects (colour) towards relations of compound referents, supporting the challenge of relational word referents. Also, attachment relations were more frequently encoded than function relations.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)131-163
JournalJournal of Child Language
Volume49
Issue number1
Early online date15 Feb 2021
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - Jan 2022

Keywords

  • noun-noun compound
  • compound nouns
  • relational word referents
  • relational shift

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