Yoana Vergilova, Torsten Jachmann, Nivedita Mani and Jutta Kray

Age-related Differences in Expectation-based Novel Word Learning


Adult language users can infer the meaning of a previously unfamiliar word from a single exposure to this word in a semantically and thematically constrained context, henceforth, predictive context (Borovsky, Elman, & Kutas, 2012; Borovsky et al., 2010). Children use predictive contexts to anticipate upcoming stimuli (Mani & Huettig, 2012; Borovsky et al., 2012), but the extent to which they rely on prediction to learn novel word forms is unclear (Gambi et al., 2016). Here, we examine children’s one shot learning from predictive contexts using a modified version of the one-shot learning ERP paradigm for children aged 7-13 years. In a first learning phase, we presented audio recordings of expected words and unexpected novel pseudowords in strongly and weakly constraining sentence contexts. In the following priming phase, the same recorded words and pseudowords were used as primes to identical/synonymous, related, and unrelated target words. We measured N400 modulations to the word and pseudoword continuations in the learning phase and to the identical/synonymous, related, or unrelated target words in the priming phase. When initially presented in strongly constraining sentences, novel pseudowords primed synonymous targets equally well as word primes of the same intended meaning. This pattern was particularly pronounced in older children. Our findings suggest that, around early adolescence, children can use single exposures to constraining contexts to infer the meaning of novel words and to integrate these novel words in their lexicons.