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Journal Article

The acquisition of the multiple senses of with

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Kidd, E., & Cameron-Faulkner, T. (2008). The acquisition of the multiple senses of with. Linguistics, 46(1), 33-61. doi:10.1515/LING.2008.002.

Cite as: https://hdl.handle.net/11858/00-001M-0000-002E-2E7F-8
The present article reports on an investigation of one child's acquisition of the multiple senses of the preposition with from 2;0–4;0. Two competing claims regarding children's early representation and subsequent acquisition of with were investigated. The “multiple meanings” hypothesis predicts that children form individual form-meaning pairings for with as separate lexical entries. The “monosemy approach” (McKercher 2001) claims that children apply a unitary meaning by abstracting core features early in acquisition. The child's (“Brian”) speech and his input were coded according to eight distinguishable senses of with. The results showed that Brian first acquired the senses that were most frequent in the input (accompaniment, attribute, and instrument). Less common senses took much longer to emerge. A detailed analysis of the input showed that a variety of clues are available that potentially enable the child to distinguish among high frequency senses. The acquisition data suggested that the child initially applied a restricted one-to-one form-meaning mapping for with, which is argued to reflect the spatial properties of the preposition. On the basis of these results it is argued that neither the monosemy nor the multiple meanings approach can fully explain the data, but that the results are best explained by a combination of word learning principles and children's ability to categorize the contextual properties of each sense's use in the ambient language.