Whorfian Approaches

How Labels Impact Infant Categorisation

A substantial body of experimental evidence has demonstrated that labels have an impact on infant categorisation processes. Yet little is known regarding the nature of the mechanisms by which this effect is achieved. This paper distinguishes two accounts, supervised name-based categorisation and unsupervised feature-based categorisation, and describes a neuro-computational model of infant visual categorisation, based on self-organising maps, that implements the unsupervised feature-based approach. The model successfully reproduces experiments demonstrating the impact of labelling on infant visual categorisation reported in Plunkett, Hu & Cohen (2008).

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The model predicts that the impact of labels on categorisation is influenced by the perceived similarity of the objects and the sequence in which the objects are presented to infants. The results suggest that early in development, before 12-months-old, labels need not act as invitations to form categories nor highlight the commonalities between objects, but may play a more mundane but nevertheless powerful role as additional features that are processed in a similar fashion to other features that characterise objects and object categories.

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Phonological Development

Learning How to be Flexible with Words

Eight-month-old infants are able to recognise words, whether they hear them in isolation or in fluent speech. Yet, they fail to attach meaning to words until around their first birthday. It is shown that 17-month-old children still have difficulty in recognising words in continuous speech in the service of identifying a referent. They fare better if the word is presented in isolation. In contrast, 24-month-olds have no such difficulty in recognising words. They identify the referent of a word equally well if it is presented in isolation or in continuous speech. Furthermore, 24-month-olds demonstrate a flexibility in the face of systematic distortions that linguistic context imposes upon a word, even when the word is stripped of its surrounding context. This flexibility may play an important role in the dramatic changes that take place in children's vocabulary during the second year of life, while younger children may benefit from parental naming practices that package words as unambiguous labels for objects.

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Semantic Development
Stacks Image 1117
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Computational Modelling
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Infant Categorisation
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