What paradox? Referential cues allow for infant use of phonetic detail in word learning

Christopher T. Fennell*, Sandra R. Waxman

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

125 Scopus citations


Past research has uncovered a surprising paradox: Although 14-month-olds have exquisite phonetic discrimination skills (e.g., distinguishing [b] from [d]), they have difficulty using phonetic detail when mapping novel words to objects in laboratory tasks (confusing bin and din). While some have attributed infants' difficulty to immature word learning abilities, the hypothesis presented herein is that infants are powerful word learners and this apparent difficulty occurs only when the referential status of the novel word is unclear. Across 2 experiments, 14-month-old infants (N = 44) used phonetic detail to map novel words to objects when conditions were conducive to word-referent mapping (clear sentential contexts and word-referent training), thus revealing no fundamental discontinuity in its use from speech perception to word learning.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1376-1383
Number of pages8
JournalChild development
Issue number5
StatePublished - Sep 2010

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Pediatrics, Perinatology, and Child Health
  • Education
  • Developmental and Educational Psychology


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