chapter  4
28 Pages

Concepts and Meaning in Language Development

ByKatherine Nelson

The central problems of the acquisition of lexical terms and meanings are not greatly different from those of other aspects of language acquisition: They have to do with the questions of how the language system gets into the mind of the child. The problem of the child's acquisition of a system of conventional lexical meanings is a subset of the question of how language in general is acquired and at the same time it is a much larger questioninvolving all of learning and knowledge acquisition. Although the lexical system seems to be much more closely connected to the child's general knowledge system (language seems much less "special" in this domain), the answers that are proposed for this component of the system are similar to those proposed for grammar. And many of the problems are similar. For example, as with the syntactic component, each language organizes its lexicon in a different way: Different concepts are lexicalized, semantic domains are structured differently (Lyons, 1977), and classifiers and covert categories relate lexical items differently in different languages (Bowerman, 1982; Lakoff, 1987). Yet the child is not tutored directly in these systems any more than in grammar; the systems must be induced from the language in use.