11 April 2018

Colloquium 2- 2017/2018

How Infants Build a Semantic System

In this talk, Kim Plunkett will describe a series of experimental and computational studies designed to investigate how toddlers extract meaning from speech and when they begin to integrate word meanings into a network of relationships. 

Details

About the talk

The ability to identify appropriate referents, given a label, develops rapidly during the second year of life, so that by the time an infant reaches her second birthday she may understand many hundreds, if not thousands of words. Although we know a great deal about the types of words that infants comprehend, surprisingly, we know very little about their appreciation of the meaning relationships between words themselves. These meaning relations lie at the heart of the human semantic system: Part of knowing what the word ‘dog’ means involves knowing, if only implicitly, how it relates to the meaning of ‘cat’ or ‘bone’. A proper understanding of human semantic development involves identification of how and when infants begin to link words together in a network of meanings, thereby going beyond word-world associations to achieve a system of meanings that underpins human communication.

In this talk, Kim will describe a series of experimental and computational studies designed to investigate how toddlers extract meaning from speech and when they begin to integrate word meanings into a network of relationships. The results of these studies suggest that toddlers exploit both taxonomic and thematic information in the construction of a semantic network and that this network has already begun to coalesce by 18 months of age. She also hopes to have time to present evidence that inhibitory semantic mechanisms play an important role in lexical-semantic processing at least as early as 24 months of age, and to explore the implications of these findings for a computational account of early lexical development.