Word Learning and Word Acquisition

Part of the SpringerBriefs in Psychology book series (BRIEFSPSYCHOL)


The chapter illustrates evidence on word learning and word acquisition which supports the WAT proposal. First, we outline approaches that emphasize the importance of social aspects; then, we turn to embodied approaches highlighting the role of perception and action in word acquisition. We then describe hybrid approaches, according to which the role of perception and action cues might have more weight in the early phases of word learning, while the role of social and linguistic cues might be prominent later, once children master some social abilities and possess a consistent vocabulary. We then describe studies on modality of acquisition, showing that concrete and abstract words are learned through different strategies, based on perception versus based on language. Finally, we report some acquisition studies with adults realized in our laboratory. Based on the reported theories and evidence, we argue that the acquisition of both concrete and abstract words rests on associative mechanisms. Perceptive salience, embodied attention, and bodily actions contribute to learning of concrete words associating words to their referents. However, for acquiring abstract words, a mechanism based on words to referents associations is more difficult to apply, given the sparse variety of referents abstract words have. This makes the social and the linguistic input very relevant for abstract word learning. Thus, abstract words are learned both associating words and referents and words to other words. These different associative mechanisms influence not only the conceptual representation but also the body, leading to the activation of different effectors, hand, and mouth.


Abstract concepts Abstract words Language learning Language acquisition Acquisition modality Social cognition Embodied cognition Associative learning Development 


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Copyright information

© The Author(s) 2014

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.PsychologyUniversity of BolognaBolognaItaly
  2. 2.Institute of Cognitive Sciences and TechnologiesItalian National Research CouncilRomeItaly
  3. 3.RWTH Aachen UniversityAachenGermany

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