Lexical-Semantic System Organisation: Semantic similarity effects during word recognition in 24-month-old mono- and bilingual toddlers

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Even before they are capable of producing their first words, infants demonstrate a considerable understanding basic-level word meanings by matching correctly a spoken word to its visual referent. The second year of life is marked by an accelerated rate in word learning and producing. Young children become faster and more accurate in recognising familiar words. As children mature, so does their vocabulary and their efficiency in processing words. My work focuses on how andwhen word meanings are first related to each other and become integrated into an interconnected semantic system. I will be presenting a series of studies conducted with monolingual French learning and bilingual children (French-Spanish and French-X) which aimed at exploring, first, whether words are organised in the developing lexicon according to taxonomic relationships and to semantic similarity distances between words. Also, whether mechanisms, such as automatic activation and controlled processes, underlie priming effects. The second goal was to investigate whether words are taxonomically organised in each of the bilinguals’ languages and how the acquisition of a non-dominant language affects the semantic organisation in the dominant language.

The findings contribute to a better understanding of the developing lexical-semantic system and provide further evidence about how and when word meanings are related to each other during language acquisition.