Vocabulary learning in a Yorkshire terrier: Slow mapping of spoken words


Rapid vocabulary learning in children has been attributed to "fast mapping", with new words often claimed to be learned through a single presentation. As reported in 2004 in Science a border collie (Rico) not only learned to identify more than 200 words, but fast mapped the new words, remembering meanings after just one presentation. Our research tests the fast mapping interpretation of the Science paper based on Rico's results, while extending the demonstration of large vocabulary recognition to a lap dog. We tested a Yorkshire terrier (Bailey) with the same procedures as Rico, illustrating that Bailey accurately retrieved randomly selected toys from a set of 117 on voice command of the owner. Second we tested her retrieval based on two additional voices, one male, one female, with different accents that had never been involved in her training, again showing she was capable of recognition by voice command. Third, we did both exclusion-based training of new items (toys she had never seen before with names she had never heard before) embedded in a set of known items, with subsequent retention tests designed as in the Rico experiment. After Bailey succeeded on exclusion and retention tests, a crucial evaluation of true mapping tested items previously successfully retrieved in exclusion and retention, but now pitted against each other in a two-choice task. Bailey failed on the true mapping task repeatedly, illustrating that the claim of fast mapping in Rico had not been proven, because no true mapping task had ever been conducted with him. It appears that the task called retention in the Rico study only demonstrated success in retrieval by a process of extended exclusion. © 2012 Griebel, Oller.

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