Can English-learning toddlers acquire and generalize a novel spatial word?

Marianella Casasola, Makeba Parramore Wilbourn, Sujin Yang

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

17 Scopus citations


English-learning toddlers of 21 and 22 months were taught a novel spatial word for four actions resulting in a tight-fit spatial relation, a relation that is lexically marked in Korean but not English (Choi & Bowerman, 1991). Toddlers in a control condition viewed the same tight-fit action events without the novel word. Toddlers' comprehension of the novel word was tested in a preferential-looking paradigm. Across four videotaped pairs of action events, a tight-fit event was paired with a loose-fit event. Only toddlers who were taught the novel spatial word looked significantly longer at the tight-fit events during the test trials that presented the novel word than during control trials that presented neutral linguistic stimuli. The results indicate that toddlers can map and generalize a novel word onto actions resulting in a tight-fit relation, given limited experience with the novel word. The results provide insight into how young word learners begin to form language-specific semantic spatial categories.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)187-205
Number of pages19
JournalFirst Language
Issue number2
StatePublished - 2006


  • Language and cognition
  • Language-specific semantic categories
  • Spatial categorization
  • Spatial language
  • Word learning


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