The dynamic functions of social cues during children's word learning

Crystal Lee, Casey Lew-Williams

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

1 Scopus citations


Children learn words in a social environment, facilitated in part by social cues from caregivers, such as eye-gaze and gesture. A common assumption is that social cues convey either perceptual or social information, depending on the age of the child. In this review of research on word learning and social cues during early childhood, we propose that (1) the functions of social cues are not categorically perceptual or social, and (2) social cues support word learning in four interdependent ways: by helping children to orient attention, extract relevant information, disambiguate referents, and understand others' referential intent. We conclude with specific recommendations for theory-building and suggest that the dynamic and complex functions of social cues need to be accounted for in any complete theory of word learning.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article numbere2372
JournalInfant and Child Development
Issue number1
StatePublished - Jan 1 2023

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Developmental and Educational Psychology


  • language development
  • social cues
  • word learning


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