Slot-Filler and Taxonomic Organization: The Role of Contextual Experience and Maternal Education

  •  Li Sheng    
  •  Boji Lam    


Previous studies on children’s semantic development suggest a shift from slot-filler to taxonomic organization at around eight years of age. However, these studies typically did not include children of early elementary-school ages (six- or seven-year-old); hence the possibility remains that the shift could have emerged earlier in development. The goal of the present study was to examine the age at which the taxonomic advantage in semantic organization occurs in a cross-sectional sample of children covering a wider age range and elucidate the factors related to the use of different semantic organizational strategies. Forty-six Mandarin-English bilinguals belonging to three age groups (five-, six-, and seven-year-old) were administered category generation task in both slot-filler (e.g., “Name all the zoo animals you can think of.”) and taxonomic conditions (e.g., “Name all the animals you can think of.”). The taxonomic advantage emerged as early as six years of age. Knowledge of specific slot-filler categories (farm vs. zoo animals) showed different age-related changes. Age and maternal education more consistently predicted performance in taxonomic than slot-filler condition. The slot-filler to taxonomic shift in semantic organization is exhibited across populations of distinct language background in early school-age years. Experience with specific categories and parental input both play important roles in the development of semantic organization.

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