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How words are associated within the linguistic environment conveys semantic content; however, different contexts induce different linguistic patterns. For instance, it is well known that adults speak differently to children than to other adults. We present results from a new word association study in which adult participants were instructed to produce either unconstrained or child-oriented responses to each cue, where cues included 672 nouns, verbs, adjectives, and other word forms from the McArthur-Bates Communicative Development Inventory (CDI; Fenson et al., 2006). Child-oriented responses consisted of higher frequency words with fewer letters, earlier ages of acquisition, and higher contextual diversity. Furthermore, the correlations among the responses generated for each pair of cues differed between unconstrained (adult-oriented) and child-oriented responses, suggesting that child-oriented associations imply different semantic structure. A comparison of growth models guided by a semantic network structure revealed that child-oriented associations are more predictive of early lexical growth. Additionally, relative to a growth model based on a corpus of naturalistic child-directed speech, the child-oriented associations explain added unique variance to lexical growth. Thus, these new child-oriented word association norms provide novel insight into the semantic context of young children and early lexical development.

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Behavior Research Methods