Modeling early lexico-semantic network development: Perceptual features matter most.

What aspects of word meaning are important in early word learning and lexico-semantic network development? Adult lexico-semantic systems flexibly encode multiple types of semantic features, including functional, perceptual, taxonomic, and encyclopedic. However, various theoretical accounts of lexical development differ on whether and how these semantic properties of word meanings are initially encoded into young children’s emerging lexico-semantic networks. Whereas some accounts highlight the importance of early perceptual versus conceptual properties, others posit that thematic or functional aspects of word meaning are primary relative to taxonomic knowledge. We seek to shed light on these debates with 2 modeling studies that explore patterns in early word learning using a large database of early vocabulary in 5,450 children, and a newly developed set of semantic features of early acquired nouns. In Study 1, we ask whether semantic properties of early acquired words relate to order in which these words are typically learned; Study 2 models normative lexico-semantic noun-feature network development compared to random network growth. Both studies provide converging evidence that perceptual properties of word meanings play a key role in early word learning and lexico-semantic network development. The findings lend support to theoretical accounts of language learning that highlight the importance of the child’s perceptual experience. (PsycINFO Database Record (c) 2019 APA, all rights reserved)