The effect of semantic representation on toddlers' word retrieval

Nina C. Capone, Karla K. McGregor

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

110 Scopus citations


Purpose: This study tested the hypothesis that depth of semantic representation influences toddlers' word retrieval. Method: Nineteen toddlers participated under 3 word learning conditions in this longitudinal study. Gestures cued attention to object shape (SHP) or function (FNC) in the experimental conditions. No semantic cue was provided under a control condition (CTL). Word learning conditions occurred on each of 3 days. On the 4th day, word retrieval was assessed across 3 levels of scaffolding (uncued picture naming, cued picture naming, picture recognition). Evidence of semantic representation was provided at fast and slow mapping intervals. Results: Less scaffolding was necessary for word retrieval (uncued and cued naming) under experimental conditions than under the CTL condition. However, more SHP than FNC condition targets were retrieved for uncued picture naming. This latter difference may be related to the superior fast mapping of targets under the SHP condition. Toddlers stated object functions (slow mapping) comparably in the experimental conditions, but this was superior to CTL condition performance. Conclusions: Word retrieval is a continuous behavior that is positively influenced by semantic representation. Semantic knowledge of objects can be enriched by shape or function gestures, thereby improving toddlers' object word productions. Shape cues appear to be more effective for this purpose.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1468-1480
Number of pages13
JournalJournal of Speech, Language, and Hearing Research
Issue number6
StatePublished - Dec 2005
Externally publishedYes


  • Gesture
  • Semantic representation
  • Toddlers
  • Word learning
  • Word retrieval

ASJC Scopus subject areas

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


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