Using Language to Navigate the Infant Mind

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How do infants represent objects, actions, and relations in events? In this review, we discuss an approach to studying this question that begins with linguistic theory—specifically, semantic structures in language. On the basis of recent research exploring infant cognition and prominent linguistic analyses, we examine whether infants representations of motion events are articulated in terms of the components proposed by Talmy (1985; e.g., path, manner) and whether infants’ event representations are defined in terms of broad semantic roles (agent, patient, source, goal) as proposed by Jackendoff (1990) and Dowty (1991). We show how recent findings in infant cognition are consistent with the idea that the infant's representation of events is a close reflection of the linguistic categories. We especially highlight research that is explicitly guided by linguistic categories likely to have correlates in nonlinguistic cognition to illustrate the usefulness of using language to pose questions about early conceptual representations.



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