Lexicalsemantic Development A Stages of Development

Lexical development can be divided into three periods. The first period covers the acquisition of the initial 50 words or so, during which children are learning what words do. At this stage, some words appear to be tied to particular contexts and serve primarily social or pragmatic purposes. Word learning during this initial phase is relatively slow and uneven. A word may be equivalent to a child's holistic representation of an event. Especially in Western middle-class children, the child's vocabulary at this stage is dominated by names for objects, including animals, people, toys, and familiar household things. There will also be some social words (e.g., "hi" and bye), modifiers (e.g., "more" and "wet"), and relational terms that express success, failure, recurrence, direction and so forth.

By the middle of the second year, there is a significant increase in the rate at which children acquire new words. This new period is usually referred to as the vocabulary spurt, or naming explosion, and may be punctuated by many requests from children for adults to label things in the world around them. Words are learned very quickly, often after only a single exposure that may take place without any explicit instruction. This process of rapid word learning is referred to as "fast mapping." This phase of vocabulary growth is marked by a close relationship between lexical and grammatical development.

By the time children reach their third birthday, they begin to develop a more organized lexicon, in which the meaning relations among groups of words are discovered. For example, at this time children begin to learn words from a semantic domain, such as kinship, and they are able to organize the words according to their similarities and differences on dimensions of meanings. For nouns labeling concrete objects, children begin to organize taxonomies, also learning words at the superordinate and subordinate levels and understanding the hierarchical relations among terms such as dachshund, dog, and animal. Semantic developments at this stage will often lead to reorgani-zational processes as these kinds of relationships among words are realized by the child. The rate of word learning continues to be very rapid, with estimates suggesting that children acquired about 1520 new words a day during the preschool years and beyond.

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