Not just form, not just meaning: Words with consistent form-meaning mappings are learned earlier

Giovanni Cassani*, Niklas Limacher

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleScientificpeer-review


By leveraging Phonology-to-Semantics Consistency (PSC), which quantifies form-meaning systematicity as the semantic similarity between a target word and its phonological nearest neighbours, we document a unique effect of systematicity on Age of Acquisition (AoA). This effect is also found after controlling for the effect of neighbourhood density measured for word forms and lexical semantics and several other standard predictors of AoA. Moreover, we show that the effect of systematicity is not reducible to iconicity. Finally, we extensively probe the reliability of this finding by testing different statistical models, analysing systematicity in phonology and orthography and implementing random baselines, reporting a robust, unique negative effect of systematicity on AoA, such that more systematic words tend to be learned earlier. We discuss the findings in the light of studies on non-arbitrary form-meaning mappings and their role in language learning, focusing on the analogical process at the interface of form and meaning upon which PSC is based and how it could help children infer the semantics of novel words when context is scarce or uninformative, ultimately speeding up word learning.

Original languageEnglish
Article number17470218211053472
Number of pages19
JournalThe Quarterly Journal of Experimental Psychology
Early online date21 Oct 2021
Publication statusE-pub ahead of print - 21 Oct 2021


  • Age of acquisition
  • form-meaning systematicity
  • orthography-semantics-consistency
  • phonology-semantics-consistency
  • computational psycholinguistics
  • AGE


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