cSCAN Rounds

The challenge of relational referents in early word interpretation: Evidence from noun-noun compounds

Research has shown that verbs are more difficult to acquire than nouns. It has been argued that this is at least partly due to verbs being relational and dynamic compared to nouns. We investigated whether it is the dynamic or relational nature of referents that prove challenging during early word learning by focussing on noun-noun compounds. We created novel compounds (e.g. wug binto) with relational meaning components that were either static (a binto that HAS a wug attached to it) or dynamic (a binto that is FOR a wug). Two-to-five year-olds and adults were asked to generalise compounds to novel instances. Results support a developmental focus shift from non-relational to relational aspects, but not from static to dynamic aspects. This suggests that relational aspects, but not dynamic aspects of novel words are challenging for young language learners.