Word Mapping and Language Development
Word Mapping and Language Development
This paper aims to discuss word mapping processes during the child development, explore the concepts of “Fast” and “Slow” mapping, discuss the application and acquisition of word associations and definitions in the context of word mapping, and conclude by demonstrating that the process of elaboration through which children’s meanings of words grow to include categorical semantic relations between words requires slow mapping. ? “Fast” Mapping
For a child being inundated with new vocabulary from moment to moment, clues to any one particular word’s meaning may be few and far between, yet somehow a child manages to take these limited exposures to new words, derive meaning from them, and maintain representations of them for future use. Carey and Bartlett (1978) have termed this speedy process of inferring relatively correct and complete initial meanings of novel words given a limited number of exposures to the words “fast mapping” (Behrend, Scofield, & Kleinknecht, 2001).
It is widely assumed that children must possess an innate mechanism of specialized constraints specific to word learning to account for their “precocious abilities to infer novel word meanings” (Deak & Wagner, 2003, p. 318), and “fast mapping” is the label applied to this system (Behrend et al. , 2001). Fast mapping was first demonstrated in an experiment done by Carey and Bartlett (1978), in which 14 children, ages three to four years old, were initially presented with a novel color word in a neutral context without first being explicitly taught its meaning, and later tested on their knowledge of the new term.
All of the children had begun mapping color words to corresponding colors, and 13 of the 14 children were able to comprehend and generate six to eleven names for corresponding colors. The children were therefore familiar with the property and concept of color, which allowed the researchers to see “how learning a new color would restructure the child’s existing lexical and conceptual color domains” (Carey, 1978, p. 271).
Prior to the introduction of the children to the novel color word, each child received a production test in which he was asked to name the color of each of a number of different colored chips including an olive colored one. Most children called the olive color green, while others called it brown, but none of the children referred to the olive chip as olive. Carey and Bartlett (1978) chose to introduce the children to the novel color olive (a color the children were unfamiliar with), but instead of referring to it as olive (a word that some children might be familiar with) they chose to call the olive color chromium.
The researchers painted one cup and one tray in the children’s nursery school classroom olive, while an identical cup remained red, and an identical tray remained blue. The researchers asked the children’s teacher to introduce the new color word individually to each child in a normal everyday context, such as preparing for snack time. The teacher avoided explicitly presenting the new color word either by asking the child to “Bring me the chromium tray, not the blue one, the chromium one,” or to “Bring me the chromium cup, not the red one, the chromium one” (Carey, 1978, p.
271). The phrase “not the blue/red one” provided enough information for the child to bring the correct tray or cup. As a result, the child was implicitly provided with lexical, syntactic, and contextual cues “adequate to the full mapping” (Carey, 1978, p. 272) of chromium, while not being forced to rely on the new color word to provide any additional information necessary for the completion of the task. All except one of the children chose the correct tray/cup upon first exposure to the new word.
And even though they did not need to rely on the new word to make the correct choice, the majority of the children attended to the fact that they had just heard a new word, and either repeated it aloud or sought approval for the selection they had just made. One week later the children took part in a second teaching task in which a group of six different colors (including olive) was presented to each child, and the children were each asked to map these different colors to their specific corresponding color words (including chromium).
This task had been designed to serve as a comprehension task in determining whether or not the children had learned to correctly map the color name chromium to the olive color. However, since olive was the only color for which the children had not previously demonstrated having a name, and since a control group (with no previous exposure to the olive/chromium mapping) performed the task at the same level as the experimental group, the researchers determined that the task was not truly a comprehension task, but rather another teaching task.
The children therefore experienced two teaching tasks prior to being tested. Five weeks after the second teaching task, the children were given a second production test just like the one they received prior to the introducing event. However, unlike the first production test, in which the majority of the children called the olive colored chip either green or brown, eight of the fourteen children now either said that they did not know what color name to use to refer to the chip or began referring to the olive chip using one of the color names that they knew but had not mapped stably to any one particular color.
Fast mapping is evident in that after only two brief exposures to the chromium color word/olive color pairing, “the child had learned and retained for over a month that olive is not called green; in searching his lexicon for a name to call it, he found another color word with no stable referent which was more highly accessible than the new word chromium. Thus for these eight children at least, the process of restructuring the conceptual and lexical domains had already begun” (Carey, 1978, p.
273). The children had demonstrated their ability to infer meaning (as to which color the word chromium referred to) by relying solely on the situation and the context in which they encountered the word. In the previous example the children’s retention would be limited- although not inhibited entirely- if exposed to a great variety of colors that had never been introduced to them before. This assertion illustrates the importance of scope to proper establishment of the context.
Studies have found that as the factors increase in number or property, subjects of all ages are more likely to disorient and produce ambiguous definitions (Patson, 2010). Precise, mutually exclusive terms are the most conducive to a clear and complete understanding of a word. A study examined the potentiality of mutual exclusivity by first asking if the part pointed to was the trachea and then further challenging the student by requiring them to specify whether the whole area or one specific part was the trachea. When the subject area is previously known it is normal for children to favor an inclusive definition, i.
e. accepting craniofacial instead of accepting cranial and facial as two, separate, specific, mutually-exclusive terminologies (Hansen, 2009). The correction of such errors is atypical to fast mapping, where the concept is simply understood. Fast mapping provides a seemingly quick and efficient way for children to initially acquire correct partial meanings that are specific to the contexts in which new words are heard. However, acquiring a complete definition for any one word generally requires the integration of a number of partial mappings derived from specific encounters with the word in everyday life.
Fast mapping is merely the beginning of a longer more gradual elaboration and reorganization process called “slow mapping” that results in a more complete definition (Carey, 1978; Johnson & Anglin, 1995; McGregor, Friedman, Reilly, & Newman, 2002). “Slow” Mapping Slow mapping is “a prolonged period during which the child must hold a fragile new representation in lexical memory, distinguish it from many other fragile representations, continue to hypothesize about the meaning of the word, and update the representation as a result of those hypotheses” (McGregor et al, 2002, p. 332).
The partial meanings of words acquired during fast mapping are retained in memory while meanings derived from new encounters with words provide additional information and allow connections both between and within new and existing knowledge to be created, eliminated, and reworked. Slow mapping is the term applied to this process in which information provided through both old and new encounters with words is slowly integrated and evolves into increasingly accurate and complete definitions. Whereas fast mapping has been experimentally captured (e. g. Carey & Bartlett, 1978), and shown to be “replicable” (Deak & Wagner, 2003, p.
318), the protracted timeline and more elusive nature of slow mapping have made it difficult to pinpoint, study, and understand the process. It appears that much speculation surrounds the true nature of slow mapping. Johnson and Anglin (1995) comment “this elaboration process is not yet well understood, but it appears that children somehow develop additional meaning relations among the new word and others within the same semantic field and increasingly incorporate contextual restrictions, distributional properties, and syntactic privileges of occurrence” (p. 614).
Carey (1978) admits, “I have gone much further than available data license” (p. 292) in summarizing her hypothesis on the nature of slow mapping following a description of her fast mapping study. Deak and Wagner (2003) attempted to access the process of slow mapping in the learning of categorical semantic relations between words by introducing children aged four to seven years old to made-up words with invented meanings and semantic relationships to one another (introduced as an “alien” language) and later testing their comprehension and production of these new words.
Children were taught basic categorical semantic relations of exclusion (no overlap between word referents), inclusion (referents of one label are a subset of the referents of another label), and overlap (the sets of referents of two labels intersect) during two separate play sessions in which each of four labels for newly contrived categories were presented (along with defining information) a minimum of twenty times. The semantic relations were either explicitly expressed or implicitly derived by the children during the play sessions.
The older children of the group (six- and seven-year-olds) were able to learn more semantic relations and word definitions than the younger children (four- and five-year-olds), and exclusion was the categorical semantic relation most readily learned in both age groups. The principle finding of the study was that although all of the children were able to learn new categorical semantic relations between words equally well whether the relations were explicitly stated or implicitly derived, the children were not able to fast map these categorical semantic relations as they were able to do with basic word meanings.
Whereas children were able to infer relatively correct meanings of the novel words almost immediately, for example, they could correctly point out exemplars, they were unable to fast map categorical semantic relations even when these relations were explicitly stated. Deak and Wagner (2003) conclude, “when word learning is measured at a surface level, children show a grasp of new words, but this grasp is weak. It is unlikely to include knowledge of meaning relations, or incorporation into a differentiated semantic network, even after many unambiguous exposures to the new words” (p.
323). Thus, it appears that fast mapping describes children’s ability to quickly associate words to referents, but does not capture the process of elaboration through which children’s meanings of words grow to include categorical semantic relations between words. Slow mapping is the route through which the incomplete initial word meanings obtained through fast mapping expand to include more information about the meanings of words including semantic relations between words.
Penno, Wilkinson, and Moore (2002) have also attempted to access the process of slow mapping, albeit using a different procedure, by presenting children aged five to eight years old with new words through the context of storybook reading. Children were read a storybook once a week for three consecutive weeks in small groups, and were given a multiple-choice vocabulary test both prior to the first reading and after the last reading.
The multiple-choice vocabulary test included 15 words present in the storybook that were assumed to be unknown to the children. In addition, following each reading of the storybook, the children were asked to complete a retelling task in which they retold the story they had just heard to the best of their ability to the researcher. After the entire process had been completed for the first storybook, children were read a second storybook following the same procedure.
The children received an explanation for each of the fifteen new words (every time one of the words was encountered) during every reading of one of the two storybooks. For the remaining storybook, no explanation was supplied for unknown words. The main objective of this study was “to examine the effects of repeated exposure to a story and the additive effects of explanation of the meaning of target words on students’ vocabulary” (Penno et al. , 2002, p. 23).
Both repeated exposure and explanation of meaning were indeed significant contributors to vocabulary growth. The process of slow mapping was displayed through the “linear improvement in the accuracy of use of the target words across the three retellings of the stories” (Penno et al. , 2002, p. 31). After being read a storybook for the first time, the children were able to retell the story in a manner that demonstrated their fast mapping ability in that they were able to provide some indication of a basic understanding of the new words’ meanings.
However, the second and third readings and retellings of a storybook revealed the slow mapping process, as the children used the new words with ever increasing accuracy through each subsequent storybook retelling. Accuracy and depth of word knowledge was measured incrementally through a coding system containing six categories ranging from category zero (indicating “no knowledge or use of the target word”) to category five (indicating “generalized knowledge of the target word”) (Penno et al. , 2002, p. 26).
For example, the coding system might determine a child’s accuracy and depth of word knowledge as progressing from category two (“Developing knowledge”: the target word is used, but inappropriately) at the first storybook retelling, to category three (“Synonym”: a synonymous phrase or word is used for the target word) at the second storybook, up to category four (“Accurate knowledge”: the target word is used accurately and more frequently than a synonym) by the third storybook retelling (Penno et al. , 2002, p. 26).
Children also benefited from receiving explanations for unknown words, displaying greater gains in vocabulary when provided with explanations than when not, suggesting that the explanation may have provided useful experience with the meaning of the unknown words. One of the challenges of word mapping research area is finding word knowledge assessment methods that go beyond measures of children’s ability to identify the correct referent of a word or to use a word in an appropriate context. In 2009 the effect of the cultural, linguistic differences between mainstream English and African American English was measured.
An equal number of African American English speakers and mainstream (mostly Caucasian, Hispanic, and African American) respondents were given a series of syntactical questions. This result was that native speakers of English who were African American were predisposed to have more difficulty with the grammatical structure of formal English (Johnson, 2009). In addition to the methods described in the previous three studies, children’s word definitions may serve as a source of information on the process of mapping (Hughes, Woodcock, & Funnell, 2005; Johnson & Anglin, 1995; McGregor et al, 2002).
Children’s word definitions have also been found to change with age. These changes may reflect, in part, increased understanding of the words’ meanings. Another source of information on word mapping may be children’s word associations. Word Definitions Word learning, commencing at around age of one year, progresses at the rate of approximately ten new words every day (Bloom, 2000), or about one per every waking hour (Carey, 1978). Werner and Kaplan (1950) describe the acquisition of the meanings of words as occurring in two ways.
One way a child learns a word is “by explicit reference either verbal or objective” (p. 3), in which a word is verbally defined or an object is directly named for the child. The second way a child learns a word is “through implicit or contextual reference” (p. 3), in which a word is inferred from the context of a conversation. Up until around two years of age, a child may learn a great many words through “explicit reference,” as adults will often repeat common phrases and names of objects and provide definitions for unknown words in an effort to teach a child new vocabulary (Carey, 1978; Werner & Kaplan, 1950).
However, as children grow older, they receive this vocabulary coaching less and less and they must rely primarily on “implicit or contextual reference” to acquire the majority of vocabulary. Children learn the majority of their words from hearing how others use them in day-to-day life. In doing so, they must rely solely on “the linguistic context in which the word occurs and the situation in which it is used” (Carey, 1978, p. 265) to derive meaning for new words.
Researchers recognize the ability to produce quality word definitions as a metalinguistic skill (Watson, 1985), as “individuals must not only consider their knowledge of the to-be-defined word and determine what characteristics should be included in the definition but they should also know how to organize information into conventional definitional form” (Skwarchuk & Anglin, 1997, p. 298). An individual’s mastery of the form and content of word definitions is imperative in producing quality definitions (Watson, 1985), and there are a number of well-established trends concerning the development of both.
The definitions provided by young (roughly preschool) children tend to be comprised primarily of functional information, e. g. “a knife is to cut with” (Litowitz, 1977), but they also include (to a lesser degree) perceptual features, e. g. “a kitten is furry” (Hughes et al. , 2005). Young children’s definitions also tend to include information that is personally relevant, such as “I have a friendly rabbit named Hoppy” (Watson, 1985) and are often concrete, simple, and context bound (Skwarchuk & Anglin, 1997).
As a child grows older, a transition occurs in the content included in a definition, suggesting a conceptual shift “from the individually experienced to the socially shared” (Litowitz, 1977, p. 289), and definitions become more abstract, complex, and precise in nature (Skwarchuk & Anglin, 1997). However, the accurate acquisition of a definition is dependent on the individual skills of the child and of the clarity of the context in which the new conceptual definition is presented (Nicoladis, 2010). Namely, the listener must recognize the probable intention of the statement through the interpretation of nonverbal cues.
This is done through the rapid analysis of the word usage, the verbal tone, the context, and the previous experiences of the listener (de Ruiter, 2010). A child’s inferential attributions to a word are also built upon their personal skills. In the Sally Ann task, the children are asked to conceptualize the thoughts of others and are measured by their success at that task, their ability to concede that the other’s thoughts are not necessarily correct, and to form a hypothetical, mental frame of context through which to examine the probable thoughts and actions which inform that person’s decisions (Jary, 2010).
The ability to successful integrate the representational theory of mind tested by the Sally Ann task has been proven to aid in the conceptualization of both grammatical structure and definition (Jary, 2010). Both form and content develop and change over time, but these changes do not necessarily occur simultaneously, and children are generally able to express semantic content more successfully than they are able to use correct Aristotelian definitional form (Johnson & Anglin, 1995).
Since form and content of children’s definitions change as their knowledge of and experience with words increases it seems logical that studying the elaboration and refinement of word definitions in children over time would allow us to better understand the process of slow mapping (McGregor, 2002). The interpretations of the ambiguities of language, such as the use of the finite “that” for an infinite pool of possible contexts, are key contributors to the accuracy of slow mapping in the inferred or abstract definition of words (Jary, 2010).
In a study designed to capture the slow mapping process of word meaning development, McGregor et al. (2002) offer some evidence that children’s definitions may indeed provide an accurate representation of the semantic knowledge possessed by a child. McGregor et al. have shown that a child’s abilities to provide a name for and draw a picture of each of a series of objects correspond reliably with one another and are also consistent with a child’s ability to provide definitions for those objects.
The study suggests that the three tasks (naming, drawing, and defining) access a common semantic representation and therefore validates the use of the defining task in providing a window into the slow mapping of word meaning. Word Associations Children’s word associations also change as word knowledge changes over time. Consequently, studying children’s word associations may provide an additional opportunity to capture the slow mapping process of word meaning development. Petrey (1977) draws attention to the development of word associations as shifting from episodic (or schematic) to semantic (or taxonomic) as children’s word knowledge grows.
She comments, “Whereas adult’s responses are grouped primarily by semantic memory of words’ internal content, children’s responses display mainly episodic memories of external context” (p. 69). For example, if the stimulus word were “rabbit,” a child is likely to provide an episodic response like “carrot,” and an adult is more likely to provide a semantic response like “squirrel. ” Petrey’s research suggested that the shift from episodic to semantic association responses occurs by around third grade.
Researchers have also attempted to explain changing word associations as reflecting a syntagmatic-paradigmatic shift. Syntagmatic refers to words being syntactically related, that is, likely to occur together in the same sentence, like a verb response to a noun, whereas paradigmatic refers to words being in the same syntactic class, like a noun response to a noun (Nelson, 1977). This description has proven to be less well supported than the episodic-semantic (or schematic-taxonomic) shift. Another explanation refers to the cultural influences of the child’s caretaker(s).
Because as the child ages there is less need and ability to define the abstract concepts, there is an increased reliance on word attribution (de Ruiter, 2010). Bilingual children favor the grammatical structure and the customary usage of their stronger language (Nicoladis, 2010). In Blewitt and Toppino’s study, superordinate responses in the word association task became increasingly frequent with age (as is the case in word definition tasks), suggesting that the word association task may indeed be a useful tool to implement in future work aimed at capturing the slow-mapping process.
The increasing use of superordinate terms provided both in the word definition task and the word association task suggest that the two tasks may be measuring the common underlying process of elaboration and completion of word meaning over time that is slow mapping. Summary Conventional estimates suggest that by age 17 the vocabulary of an average English-speaking individual comprises more than 60,000 words (Bloom, 2000).
In order for this monumental task to be achieved, word learning, commencing at around age of one year, must progress at the rate of approximately ten new words every day (Bloom, 2000), or about one per every waking hour (Carey, 1978). Werner and Kaplan (1950) describe the acquisition of the meanings of words as occurring in two ways. One way a child learns a word is “by explicit reference either verbal or objective” (p. 3), in which a word is verbally defined or an object is directly named for the child.
The second way a child learns a word is “through implicit or contextual reference” (p.3), in which a word is inferred from the context of a conversation. Up until around two years of age, a child may learn a great many words through “explicit reference,” as adults will often repeat common phrases and names of objects and provide definitions for unknown words in an effort to teach a child new vocabulary (Carey, 1978; Werner & Kaplan, 1950). These two methods for accessing developmental change in children’s word knowledge have both been found to change with increasing age and understanding of words, and appear to provide access to slow mapping in children.
In general, knowledge about familiar words is slowly acquired. Children both increase their understanding of the semantic relations among words, and learn about the details of the objects labeled by the words. Children are unable to fast map categorical semantic relations even when these relations were explicitly stated. Conclusively, the process of elaboration through which children’s meanings of words grow to include categorical semantic relations between words requires slow mapping. The ability children possess to infer initial meanings for novel words given a limited number of exposures to the words “fast mapping.
” Fast mapping provides a seemingly quick and efficient way for children to acquire initial meanings of novel words, but the meanings children gain through fast mapping are often incomplete, especially requiring a longer more gradual elaboration and reorganization process called “slow mapping” in order to become complete definitions. Slow mapping allows the connections both between and within new and existing knowledge to be created, eliminated, and reworked, as increasingly complete and accurate definitions evolve.
Slow mapping, a much slower and more elusive process than fast mapping, has not been experimentally captured, and much speculation continues to surround its true nature. Attempts to access slow mapping by researchers have provided some insight into the nature of that process. However, research studies have not accessed children’s word understanding beyond an initial, superficial level. References Behrend, D. A. , Scofield, J. , & Kleinknecht, E. E. (2001). Beyond fast mapping: Young children’s extensions of novel words and novel facts. Developmental Psychology, 37, 698-705.
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University/College: University of Arkansas System
Type of paper: Thesis/Dissertation Chapter
Date: 21 September 2016
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