Early word-learning entails reference, not merely associations

Sandra R. Waxman*, Susan A. Gelman

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

159 Scopus citations


Recent years have witnessed a resurgence of classic tensions concerning the fundamental nature of human knowledge and the processes underlying its acquisition. This tension, especially evident in research on the acquisition of words and concepts, arises when researchers pit one type of content against another (perceptual versus conceptual) and one type of process against another (associative versus theory-based). But these dichotomies are false; they rest upon insufficient consideration of the structure and diversity of the words and concepts that we naturally acquire. As infants and young children establish categories and acquire words to describe them, they take advantage of both perceptual and conceptual information, and relate this to both the (rudimentary) theories they hold and the statistics that they witness.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)258-263
Number of pages6
JournalTrends in Cognitive Sciences
Issue number6
StatePublished - Jun 2009

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Neuropsychology and Physiological Psychology
  • Experimental and Cognitive Psychology
  • Cognitive Neuroscience


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