Semantic representation and naming in young children

Karla K. McGregor, Rena M. Friedman, Renée M. Reilly, Robyn M. Newman

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

135 Scopus citations


Children's semantic representations and semantic naming errors were the focus of this study. In Experiment 1, 25 normally developing children (mean age = 5 years 4 months) named, drew, and defined 20 age-appropriate objects. The results suggested that functional and physical properties are core aspects of object representations in the semantic lexicon and that these representations are often organized and accessed according to a taxonomic hierarchy. Results of a new procedure, comparative picture naming/picture drawing, suggested that the degree of knowledge in the semantic lexicon makes words more or less vulnerable to retrieval failure. Most semantic naming errors were associated with limited semantic knowledge, manifested as either lexical gaps or fragile representations. Comparison of definitions for correctly named and semantically misnamed objects provided converging evidence for this conclusion. In Experiment 2, involving 16 normally developing children (mean age = 5 years 5 months), the comparative picture naming/picture drawing results were replicated with a stimulus set that allowed a priori matching of the visual complexity of items drawn from correct and semantic error pools. Discussion focuses on the dynamic nature of semantic representations and the relation between semantic representation and naming during a period of slow mapping. The value of comparative picture naming/picture drawing as a new method for exploring children's semantic representations is emphasized.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)332-346
Number of pages15
JournalJournal of Speech, Language, and Hearing Research
Issue number2
StatePublished - 2002
Externally publishedYes


  • Drawing
  • Lexicon
  • Naming
  • Representation
  • Semantics

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Language and Linguistics
  • Linguistics and Language
  • Speech and Hearing


Dive into the research topics of 'Semantic representation and naming in young children'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this