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Linking language to sensory experience: onomatopoeia in early language development

Motamedi, Y; Murgiano, M; Perniss, P; Wonnacott, E; Marshall, C; Goldin-Meadow, S; Vigliocco, G; (2021) Linking language to sensory experience: onomatopoeia in early language development. Development Science , 24 (3) , Article e13066. 10.1111/desc.13066. Green open access

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Abstract

A key question in developmental research concerns how children learn associations between words and meanings in their early language development. Given a vast array of possible referents, how does the child know what a word refers to? We contend that onomatopoeia (e.g., knock, meow), where a word's sound evokes the sound properties associated with its meaning, are particularly useful in children's early vocabulary development, offering a link between word and sensory experience not present in arbitrary forms. We suggest that, because onomatopoeia evoke imagery of the referent, children can draw from sensory experience to easily link onomatopoeic words to meaning, both when the referent is present as well as when it is absent. We use two sources of data: naturalistic observations of English-speaking caregiver-child interactions from 14 up to 54 months, to establish whether these words are present early in caregivers' speech to children, and experimental data to test whether English-speaking children can learn from onomatopoeia when it is present. Our results demonstrate that onomatopoeia: i) are most prevalent in early child-directed language and in children's early productions, ii) are learnt more easily by children compared with non-iconic forms and iii) are used by caregivers in contexts where they can support communication and facilitate word learning.

Type: Article
Title: Linking language to sensory experience: onomatopoeia in early language development
Location: England
Open access status: An open access version is available from UCL Discovery
DOI: 10.1111/desc.13066
Publisher version: http://dx.doi.org/10.1111/desc.13066
Language: English
Additional information: This version is the author accepted manuscript. For information on re-use, please refer to the publisher’s terms and conditions.
Keywords: child-directed language, onomatopoeia, sound symbolism, word learning
UCL classification: UCL
UCL > Provost and Vice Provost Offices > School of Education
UCL > Provost and Vice Provost Offices > School of Education > UCL Institute of Education
UCL > Provost and Vice Provost Offices > School of Education > UCL Institute of Education > IOE - Psychology and Human Development
UCL > Provost and Vice Provost Offices > School of Life and Medical Sciences
UCL > Provost and Vice Provost Offices > School of Life and Medical Sciences > Faculty of Brain Sciences
UCL > Provost and Vice Provost Offices > School of Life and Medical Sciences > Faculty of Brain Sciences > Div of Psychology and Lang Sciences
UCL > Provost and Vice Provost Offices > School of Life and Medical Sciences > Faculty of Brain Sciences > Div of Psychology and Lang Sciences > Experimental Psychology
UCL > Provost and Vice Provost Offices > School of Life and Medical Sciences > Faculty of Brain Sciences > Div of Psychology and Lang Sciences > Language and Cognition
URI: https://discovery.ucl.ac.uk/id/eprint/10116116
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