Consistency and variability in word learning across languages
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Description: Why do children learn some words earlier than others? The order in which words are acquired can provide clues about the mechanisms of word learning. In a large-scale corpus analysis, we use data from over 38,000 children to estimate the acquisition trajectories of around 400 words in ten languages, predicting them on the basis of independently-derived environmental and conceptual factors. We examine the consistency and variability of these predictors across languages, by lexical category, and over development. The ordering of predictors across languages is quite similar, suggesting similar processes in operation. In contrast, the ordering of predictors across different lexical categories is distinct, in line with theories that posit distinct factors at play in the acquisition of content words and function words. By leveraging data at a significantly larger scale than previous work, our analyses identify candidate generalizations about the processes underlying word learning across languages.