On a first encounter with a new word, young children begin to establish a representation of its meaning. To do so, they benefit from several kinds of information, including the perceived communicative goals of the speaker, which entities and events are most salient in their environment, and the linguistic context in which the unfamiliar word occurs. Linguistic context is understood to be particularly powerful for certain kinds of words, but to make use of linguistic context, children must be able to “parse to learn” even as their parsing abilities are developing. In several studies, I will explore how children’s need for information in linguistic context interacts with the limitations of their developing parsers as they posit meanings for unfamiliar nouns and verbs. I will also argue that parents are sensitive to the tradeoff between information and parsing demand in their own productions of words that are unfamiliar to their child.
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