East and West: A Role for Culture in the Acquisition of Nouns and Verbs

Tracy A. Lavin, D. Geoffrey Hall and Sandra R. Waxman

in Action Meets Word

Published in print April 2006 | ISBN: 9780195170009
Published online April 2010 | e-ISBN: 9780199893300 | DOI:
East and West: A Role for Culture in the Acquisition of Nouns and Verbs

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This chapter presents a multifactor view of word learning, opting for a social explanation based in cultural factors. Using a modification of Gillette and Gleitman's human simulation paradigm, researchers asked adult subjects (Western students, Japanese students, and second-generation Japanese students) to guess the words an American mother was saying to her child in the play scenes. They did not specify the form class of the word to be supplied. The general prediction was that Japanese students would focus on actions more than nouns and vice versa for the Western students. They found that all three groups identified more nouns than verbs but that this effect was more pronounced with the Western students. However, there were no differences in the number of correct matches for nouns between the three groups or for the accuracy of the verbs guessed. These results suggest that cultural factors may indeed influence the English-speaking child to learn more nouns than verbs.

Keywords: word learning; acquisition of nouns; cultural factors; human simulation paradigm

Chapter.  8867 words.  Illustrated.

Subjects: Developmental Psychology

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