Storkel, H.L. & Young, J.M. (2004). Homonymy in the developing mental lexicon. In A. Brugos, L. Micciulla, & C.E. Smith (eds). Proceedings of the 28th Annual Boston University Conference on Language Development, Volume 2 (pp. 577-584). Somerville, MA: Cascadilla Press.


This paper returns to the controversy of the role of homonymy in lexical acquisition. Previously, it has been alternatively argued that children either avoid learning homonyms due to a one-to-one form-referent mapping constraint (i.e., mutual exclusivity), or collect homonyms as a strategy to promote expansion of the lexicon. To address this question, 28 typically developing preschool children (M age = 4 years, 1 month; SD = 6 months) participated in a word learning study comparing homonym learning (i.e., known form - novel referent) to novel word learning (i.e., novel form - novel referent). In addition, the influence of form characteristics on homonym learning was explored by manipulating the phonotactic probability (i.e., likelihood of occurrence) of the sound sequences to be learned. Preliminary results indicated that children learned homonyms more rapidly than novel words. This finding provides evidence that children do recognize when a form is known and that this facilitates phonological processing, thereby speeding word learning. Phonotactic probability results were less clear, but trends were consistent with past research of novel word learning indicating that high probability sound sequences were learned more rapidly than low probability sound sequences, even when the form was known. Implications for future research are discussed.

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