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Kim Plunkett, Tuesday April 10

The Whorfian Infant


Acquisition of Colour Vocabularies: Brown & Lenneberg’s (1954) classic Study in Language and Cognition instigated a relativistic view of the relationship between language and thought based on solid experimental data. Fifteen years later, Berlin & Kay’s (1969) account of the world’s colour vocabularies and categories espoused a universal, cognitivist view that still motivates controversial debates. One such debate concerns the timing and order of colour vocabularies in early childhood. I will provide new data from 11 languages reviewing the acquisition of colour vocabularies in toddlers that demonstrate precocious and variable acquisition trajectories across languages. Furthermore, I will provide experimental evidence for the view that knowledge of colour words is essential for highlighting the colour features of objects familiar to infants.

Labels and Category Formation: I describe a series of experiments that provides support for the view that labels impact the process of categorization in young infants even before they begin to produce their first words, either by overriding the perceptual dissimilarities between objects, leading infants to treat them as more similar to each other, or by overriding perceptual similarities to divide objects into distinct categories. These experiments also demonstrate that young infants can simultaneously compute the correlational structure of object features in the visual domain at the same time as they compute the relationship of that correlational structure to novel features (words) in the auditory domain. This cross-modal, computational capacity is a powerful tool for the young infant to exploit in deriving the meaning of words.

Features or Names: The nature of the underlying mechanisms that enable labels to impact infant categorisation is unclear. Some researchers have suggested that ‘labels facilitate categorisation’, that labels ‘act as invitations to form categories’ and that labels ‘highlight the commonalities between objects’. I consider an alternative explanation that ‘labels are merely additional features that are integrated into the processing of category information’. Computational implementations of these approaches are assessed and the ‘Perceptual Load Hypothesis’ is introduced in an attempt to reconcile competing accounts of cross-modal auditory-visual processing in infancy.

Where and when:
15:45-17:00 Apr 10, 2018
MPI, Conference room 163
Edith Sjoerdsma,

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