Vocabulary development and the shape bias in children with hearing loss

Lynn K. Perry, Amy L. Meltzer, Sarah C. Kucker

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Purpose: Although children with hearing loss (HL) can benefit from cochlear implants (CIs) and hearing aids (HAs), they often show language delays. Moreover, little is known about the mechanisms by which children with HL learn words. One mechanism by which typically hearing (TH) children learn words is by acquiring word learning biases such as the “shape bias,” that is, generalizing the names of novel solid objects by similarity in shape. In TH children, the shape bias emerges out of regularities in the early vocabulary and, once acquired, has consequences for subsequent vocabulary development. Method: Here, we ask whether children with HL exhibit similar word learning biases as TH children. In the current study, nineteen 2-to 3.5-year-old children with HL generalized the names of novel objects by similarity in shape or material. We compared their performance to that of 20 TH children matched on age and 20 TH children matched on vocabulary size. Results: Children with HL were significantly less likely than age-matched TH children and vocabulary-matched TH children to generalize novel names to objects of the same shape. However, there was also an interaction such that vocabulary has a stronger effect on novel noun generalization for those with HL than for those who are TH. Exploratory analyses of children with HL reveal similar novel noun generalization and vocabulary sizes in children who use CIs and those who use HAs, regardless of hearing age or degree of HL. Conclusion: Together, the results suggest that, although vocabulary knowledge drives development of the shape bias in general for all children, it may be especially important for children with HL, who are at risk for language delays.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)3520-3532
Number of pages13
JournalJournal of Speech, Language, and Hearing Research
Issue number9
StatePublished - Sep 2021

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Language and Linguistics
  • Linguistics and Language
  • Speech and Hearing


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