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This chapter will explore fundamental questions in language acquisition as related to phonological and lexical development in the first few years of life. The key issues that have guided language acquisition research are: (1) the role of input in learning; (2) the relationship between perception and production; (3) the influence of these known representations on future learning; (4) the nature of linguistic representations in the mind. First, the types of representations (i.e., phonological, lexical, semantic) that must be learned to become fluent in a language are reviewed. Second, the role of language input in learning these representations is considered as it relates to the segmentation problem for infants. The data reviewed will show that infants have a remarkable ability to learn statistical regularities in the input and use these regularities to separate the continuous speech stream into discrete word units. Third, the relationship between perception and production will be explored as children begin to learn their first words. Here, phonological knowledge appears to constrain word learning. Fourth, we will examine how already learned words influence the acquisition of new words in more mature word learners (e.g., children beyond the first 50 words). The evidence reviewed will demonstrate that children continue to extract regularities from known words (e.g., count nouns have the same shape) and use these regularities to further facilitate word learning (i.e., bootstrapping). Finally, we will consider how linguistic knowledge is represented in the mind, providing evidence that lexical and semantic knowledge are gradient and change over time.
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