Contextual Influences

Even during the earliest stages of word learning, children rarely make errors about the mapping between a word and its referent. Despite the fact that children may not have words for most concepts in the world, they almost always hone in on the correct meaning of a word learned in various social contexts. One important developmental process that makes this possible is that children understand other peoples' intentions and bring this knowledge of other minds to the task of word learning. Thus, they will carefully observe what a speaker is looking at or playing with when a new word is spoken. Children monitor the speaker's line of regard and assume that a novel word refers only to the object that is in the attentional focus of the speaker, indicating that they are sensitive to subtle cues to a speaker's referential intentions.

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