The past 5 years have witnessed claims that infants as young as six months of age understand the meaning of several words. To reach this conclusion, researchers presented infants with pairs of pictures from distinct semantic domains and observed longer looks at an object upon hearing its name as compared with the name of the other object. However, these gaze patterns might indicate infants' sensibility to the word frequency and/or its contextual relatedness to the object regardless of a firm semantic understanding of this word. The current study attempted, first, to replicate, in Norwegian language, the results of recent studies showing that six- to nine-month-old English-learning infants understand the meaning of many common words. Second, it assessed the robustness of a ‘comprehension’ interpretation by dissociating semantic knowledge from confounded extra-linguistic cues via the manipulation of the contingency between words and objects. Our planned analyses revealed that Norwegian six- to nine-month-old infants did not understand the meaning of the words used in the study. Our exploratory analyses showed evidence of word comprehension at eight to nine months of age—rather than from six to seven months of age for English-learning infants—suggesting that there are cross-linguistic differences in the onset of word comprehension. In addition, our study revealed that eight- to nine-month-old infants cannot rely exclusively on single extra-linguistic cues to disambiguate between two items, thus suggesting the existence of early word-object mappings. However, these mappings are weak, as infants need additional cues (such as an imbalance in frequency of word use) to reveal word recognition. Our results suggest that the very onset of word comprehension is not based on the infants' knowledge of words per se. Rather, infants use a converging set of cues to identify referents, among which frequency is a robust (pre-semantic) cue that infants exploit to guide object disambiguation and, in turn, learn new words.
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