Public Release: 

Word learning in early life

Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences

A study examines the nature and origin of word learning in infants. Infants begin understanding words at 6 months of age, but complete word learning involves learning how words relate to each other. Elika Bergelson and Richard Aslin examined infants' understanding of cross-word relations in an eye-tracking experiment in which 51 six-month-old infants viewed pairs of semantically related or unrelated images; for instance, juice-milk formed a related image-pair, while juice-car formed an unrelated image-pair. The infants viewed each image-pair twice, and the authors found that the infants looked for a longer duration at a named target image when the images were unrelated, compared with when the images were related. In a subset of the infants, the authors linked comprehension in the eye-tracking experiment with how often the infants heard words for objects that they saw in their home environments. According to the authors, the findings suggest that cross-word relationships are formed early in word learning, and that the learning environment at home likely contributes to the development of language comprehension in early life.


Article #17-12966: "Nature and origins of the lexicon in 6-mo-olds," by Elika Bergelson and Richard Aslin.

MEDIA CONTACT: Elika Bergelson, Duke University, Durham, NC; tel: 614-598-6937; e-mail: <>

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