Academic journal article Psychonomic Bulletin & Review

Support for Hybrid Models of the Age of Acquisition of English Nouns

Academic journal article Psychonomic Bulletin & Review

Support for Hybrid Models of the Age of Acquisition of English Nouns

Article excerpt

Age of acquisition (AoA) is a psycholinguistic construct that refers to the chronological age at which a given word is acquired. Contemporary theories of AoA have focused on lexical acquisition with respect to either the developing phonological or semantic systems. One way of testing the relative dominance of phonological or semantic contributions is through open-source psycholinguistic databases, whereby AoA may be correlated with other variables (e.g., morphology, semantics, phonology). We report two multiple regression analyses conducted on a corpus of English nouns with, respectively, subjective and objective AoA measures as the dependent variables and a combination of 10 predictors, including 2 semantic, 4 phonological, 2 morphological, and 2 lexical. This multivariate combination of predictors accounted for significant proportions of the variance of AoA in both analyses. We argue that this evidence supports hybrid models of language development that integrate multiple levels of processing-from sound to meaning.

Word learning involves three overarching mechanisms: the processing and retention of an arbitrary, symbolic lexical-phonological representation; the formation of a stable conceptual representation; and the mapping between a lexical representation and a concept (Aslin, Saffian, & Newport, 1998; Paivio, 1986). These mechanisms are moderated by many other psycholinguistic variables, including a word's grammatical class (Gentner, 1982) and morphological complexity (R. W. Brown, 1976), as well as intrinsic factors such as theory of mind (Bloom, Margulis, Tinker, & Fujita, 1996). Language acquisition research has focused extensively on each of these domains in relative isolation, with the rationale that one can identify the unique contribution of a given psycholinguistic construct to the variance of another by controlling for the first's effects. With this additive paradigm, although multiple variables are being accounted for, they are methodologically isolated and treated independently. A more global understanding of the complex relations among these factors, therefore, represents a major challenge for language acquisition research. One potentially fruitful way to examine such relations is through the use of open-source psycholinguistic databases. In the present study, we examined a large corpus of English nouns with subjective age of acquisition (AoA) norms obtained from the Cambridge psycholinguistic database (Coltheart, 1981), as well as a smaller corpus of nouns with objective AoA norms obtained from Morrison, Chappell, and Ellis (1997), in order to determine the relative importance of various psycholinguistic factors contributing to English noun acquisition.

Lexical acquisition variability has been examined through a variety of experimental and naturalistic means, including diary studies of production, preferential lookingtime comprehension tasks, and standardized school-based vocabulary assessments. Language researchers have operationalized chronological variability in lexical acquisition as a discrete psycholinguistic variable-namely, AoA. It can be manipulated and controlled for in a task just as other psycholinguistic variables are, such as word frequency, word length, or concreteness (for a review, see Juhasz, 2005). Nevertheless, the validity of AoA as an independent psycholinguistic variable is controversial because of how AoA values have been obtained. The largest corpora of values were derived through adults' retrospective estimation of when they acquired a word or concept (Bird, Franklin, & Howard, 2001; Gilhooly & Logie, 1980). Even though this technique relies on remote source memory, adult subjective AoA ratings correlate strongly with more objective methods of obtaining AoA. For example, Morrison et al. (1997; see also Morrison, Hirsh, Chappell, & Ellis, 2002) reported a small set of objective AoA norms (N = 297 words) derived from picture naming. The correlation between these objective norms and the Gilhooly and Logie (1980) adult subjective ratings was r = . …

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