The Atlantic

The Connected Vocabularies of Six-Month-Olds

Babies might understand language better than scientists thought.
Source: Insung Jeon / Getty

No matter how many words you can define, your vocabulary isn’t like a dictionary. Your mind stores language not as a list of words, but as a network of categories, properties, and meanings, with stronger connections between related words, like newspaper and magazine, than unrelated ones, like wallet and avalanche.

At six months old, a baby probably doesn’t know what or means—but even at such a young age, months before children start talking, they some basic nouns, like and . And a suggests that the few words infants know are structured in their minds the same way as an adult’s vocabulary, in a complex web of related concepts. The evidence: When words have similar meanings, babies can get confused. That confusion hints that babies know more about language, at a younger age, than scientists have found before.

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