In article predominantly focuses on supporting evidence for

In this body of writing it will consist of the summary
of two articles and evidence supporting and evaluating their approach. The first
article consists of how the social pragmatic approach is the only feasible
outlook on how children learn new words. This article is by Tomosello who is
well known for being a constructivist when regarding child language
acquisition. This means that he believes in a social and pragmatic perspective
on how children first learn language and how this happens in such a rapid
amount of time. In contrast to the constructivist approach, the second article
is dominated by a nativist outlook on language acquisition. This article
focuses on the innate tools that are available to children in order for them to
master language acquisition, specifically in terms of new word learning. This article
is produced by Markman a firm believer of nativism.

In this article Tomosello outlines that there are
three modern approaches that tackles how children first learn new words. The
first approach to this is the garden variety theory, second approach is
constraints theory and the third approach is the social pragmatic theory. This
article predominantly focuses on supporting evidence for the social pragmatic approach
due to Tomosello’s outlook on the issue at hand. To summarise each approach,
the garden variety theory states that the process of children learning new
words is no different to that of any other activity. This theory offers the
explanation that word learning is done solely through association (Smith,
2000). The second theory that is proposed is the constraints theory. There are
sub-categories under this term, for example, whole-object bias, the taxonomic
assumption and the mutual exclusivity assumption which are focuses on in this
article. This article briefly outlines that this approach predominantly focuses
on the fact that children need to utilise specific principles that are already
available to the child to refine what essentially is an infinite set of
referential possibilities of any new word. This article does not give any
credit to these two approaches to word learning and state that they are
insufficient and do not provide any empirical evidence to suggest otherwise.
Also, these two theories do not take into account the social or cultural
factors regarding the process of word learning, therefore disregard the social
pragmatic approach. The final approach that is focused on, and in great detail
is the social pragmatic theory, proposed by Tomosello. This theory states that
new word learning is fundamentally a social process (Tomosello). This article
aims to answer two fundamental questions and proposes that the social pragmatic
approach is the only one that can provide and sustain a sufficient answer to
all of these. These questions focus on why it is around the age of one that
children learn new words and what kind of processes are involved. The social
pragmatic approach answers these questions with relation to the joint-attention
theory predominantly. To summarise the joint-attention approach, it stresses the
importance of joint interaction between mother and child, which is vital to new
word learning and vocabulary growth.

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The social pragmatic theory has gained a range of
supporting studies. For example, joint attention theory which is heavily relied
on in the social pragmatic perspective does have extensive supporting evidence.
Tomosello and Todd (1983) conducted a study with children between the ages of
12-18 months and collected the size of their vocabulary at the end of the
experiment. The conclusion of their study yielded the results that these two
variables showed a strong correlation. Therefore, the more time the children
spent in joint-attention with their mother the larger their vocabulary size, as
cited by Zuffery (2015, p.25). This shows that the social pragmatic approach
does hold some weight when investigating what processes aid children in
learning new words. Nelson (1988, p.241) also stresses the importance of word
learning and proposed that “it is the adult that guesses what the child is
focused on and supplies the appropriate word.” This proposes that the
relationship between the adult and the child also benefits the child’s learning
when directly integrated with joint attention. One major downfall of the social
pragmatic account that comes under a vast amount of criticism is studies that
show babies communicating before the age of 1;0. The main assumption for
joint-attention theory is that it is available to children at around the age of
one, where children start producing their first words. In contrast to this, a
study conducted by Johnson, Durieux-Smith and Bloom (2005) show that babies
were able to learn ‘baby sign’ for example, hand gestures to signal the need
for food or drink. This undermines the underlying basis of the social pragmatic
theory as its most significant factor is that the joint-attention process is
ready for children when they can produce their first words. With studies showing
that babies as young as six months can communicate with adults, this could
prove that this assumption is insufficient (As cited by Ambridge, Elena and
Lieven p.82)

The social pragmatic approach does not have enough
research or understanding when it comes to autistic children. Research has
produced results that autistic children do not find word learning as difficult
as this perspective would suggest. For example, “most autistic children that do
speak seem to use the correct meanings for most of the words that they use.”
(Ambridge, Elena and Lieven, 2011, p.82)

This article offers an opposing viewpoint of that of
the previous article, being that they both heavily believe in contradicting
views, this is not surprising. Markman focuses on three explanations that aid
children in the new word learning phase of their infancy. These three
approaches consist of the taxonomic assumption, the whole-object assumption and
the mutual exclusivity assumption. Markman is a nativist therefore she believes
that these hypotheses help the children acquire the meaning of new words and
are available to them at the ‘new word explosion’ phase of their life. These
three assumptions come under the lexical constraints approach and Woodward and
Markham (1998, p.379) explains children’s word learning is “guided by a set of
default assumptions or constraints on hypotheses”. This means that children are
already predisposed to these assumptions to aid them in tackling new words. The
taxonomic assumption as widely explained in this article is the idea that
children, when learning how to extend a new word, will only extend to
taxonomically related things and not things associated with the object (reword).
For example, if the child is shown a picture of a hat and was told ‘this is a
hat’ and was then presented with two more pictures. These two pictures, one
being another hat and the other being a head. The child would pick the other
hat as the picture of the head is a thematic relation. (include example). This
article provides a vast amount of supporting studies to prove children use the taxonomic
assumption theory with new word learning which will be discussed further. The
next assumption that is heavily documented in this article is the whole-object
assumption. The whole object assumption is the idea that when children are
exposed to a new word they associate it with the whole object. This assumption
proposes that children do not label parts and properties of an object when
experienced with a new word. The final assumption outlined in this article is
the mutual exclusivity assumption. What this
means is that when children are presented with a new word for an object, that
object can have no more labels associated with it. For example, if the child is
presented with the new word ‘globe’ then it is always a ‘globe’ it cannot be a
sphere or a ball, it has no other names or labels.

Supporting evidence for the taxonomic bias was
conducted by Markman and Hutchinson (1984) when learning a new word, children
constrained the meaning taxonomically rather than thematically.

Problems for the three assumptions

Children frequently do not follow the proposed constraints
for example, a child may well give two names for the same object. This would
disprove the mutual exclusivity assumption which stresses that children do not
give more than one name to one object. The final significant and vital
criticism of these constraints is that it is vague on whether they are innately
specified and specific to word learning or have their origins in non-linguistic

Supporting evidence for the mutual exclusivity
assumption has been documented by Markman and Wachtel (1998). Children were
taught a name for an unfamiliar object as a whole, children then chose the
sub-part 85% of the time. This shows the mutual exclusivity principle can
override the whole-object assumption.

Studies supporting the whole-object bias Markman and
Wachtel (1998). Children were aged between 3;0 and 4;3 and were shown an
unfamiliar object, for example, a lung. An unfamiliar word was given as a
label, the trachea, a real word. Experimenter then asked which one is the
trachea- children choose the whole thing in 80% of trials instead of a part of
the lung. Another supporting study was conducted by Hall, Waxman and Hurwitz
(1993). (rephrase)


There are problems with the lexical constraints assumptions
which are explored in this article. For example, Saxton (2010, p.155) proposes
that these constraints act more of a “springboard” to aid children in this
stage of acquiring language. Children do not systematically depend on these
constraints to learn new words. It has been reported that children do not
actually follow these assumptions most of the time. In regard to the special
constraints theory, children seem to have no problem with leaning verbs,
adjectives and nominals as studied by Nelson, Hampson and Shaw (1993). This is
unlikely to have been learnt through the mutual exclusivity assumption unless
in specific circumstances. Constructivists would discount all the supporting
studies and assumptions of the above lexical constraints. This is down to the
methodology and the procedure in which these studies are conducted. These
studies lack empirical data which is significantly important to constructivists.
There is a lack of empirical data in these studies as lexical constraints
cannot be observed unlike the joint-attention theory. The lexical constraints
are all in the mind of the speaker therefore is extremely difficult to prove
their existence through empirical methods.

To conclude, both article provide sufficient evidence
that their theories do aid children in new word learning. In contrast to this
neither the social pragmatic approach or the lexical constraints approach does
this without having major downfalls within their results. It is clear that
children learn new words with help from processes from either side of the
argument but it is impossible to say that either approach has a definite answer
as to how children learn new words.

Word count so far 2120.


Reference list:

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Zufferey, S. (2015). Acquiring
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perspectives. Abingdon: Routledge.

Nelson, K.,
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Markman, E.M.
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L. (2000)Learning how to learn words: An
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a word learner: A debate on lexical acquisition. New York: Oxford University Press.


Woodward, A. L.,
& Markman, E. M. (1998). Early word learning. In D. Kuhn & R. S.
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Echols, C.H.,
1990. An influence of labeling on infant’s attention to objects and
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Saxton, M.
(2010) Child Language: Acquisition and Development. London, United Kingdom: