The role of exposure to isolated words in early vocabulary development

Michael R. Brent, Jeffrey Mark Siskind

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

327 Scopus citations


Fluent speech contains no known acoustic analog of the blank spaces between printed words. Early research presumed that word learning is driven primarily by exposure to isolated words. In the last decade there has been a shift to the view that exposure to isolated words is unreliable and plays little if any role in early word learning. This study revisits the role of isolated words. The results show (a) that isolated words are a reliable feature of speech to infants, (b) that they include a variety of word types, many of which are repeated in close temporal proximity, (c) that a substantial fraction of the words infants produce are words that mothers speak in isolation, and (d) that the frequency with which a child hears a word in isolation predicts whether that word will be learned better than the child's total frequency of exposure to that word. Thus, exposure to isolated words may significantly facilitate vocabulary development at its earliest stages.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)B33-B44
Issue number2
StatePublished - Sep 2001


  • Child-directed speech
  • Infant-directed speech
  • Isolated words
  • Speech segmentation
  • Word learning


Dive into the research topics of 'The role of exposure to isolated words in early vocabulary development'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this