Cultural influences on the developing semantic lexicon

Karla McGregor, Natalie Munro, Su Mei Chen, Elise Baker, Jacob Oleson

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

1 Scopus citations


To determine whether the developing semantic lexicon varies with culture, we examined the animal and food naming of children from three communities distinguished by language, cultural heritage, and population density. The children were five-and seven-year-olds from Australia (n = 197), Taiwan (n = 456), and the US (n = 172). Naming patterns revealed hierarchical and flexible organization of the semantic lexicon. The content of the lexicon, particularly food names, varied with cultural heritage. In all three communities, wild mammals were predominant during animal naming, a likely influence of children's media. The influence of the Chinese zodiac was evident in the clustering of animal names in the Taiwanese sample. There was no apparent influence of population density and little influence of language, except that the Taiwanese children more frequently named foods at the superordinate level, a possible influence of the structure of Mandarin. Children develop their lexicons in response to culture as experienced first-hand or through media.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1309-1336
Number of pages28
JournalJournal of Child Language
Issue number6
StatePublished - Nov 1 2018
Externally publishedYes

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Language and Linguistics
  • Experimental and Cognitive Psychology
  • Developmental and Educational Psychology
  • Linguistics and Language
  • Psychology(all)


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