Learning Word Meaning From Dictionary Definitions: Sensorimotor Induction Precedes Verbal Instruction

Almost all words are the names of categories. We can learn most of our words (and hence our categories) from dictionary definitions, but not all of them. Some have to be learned from direct experience. To understand a word from its definition we need to already understand the words used in the definition. This is the “Symbol Grounding Problem” [1]. How many words (and which ones) do we need to ground directly in sensorimotor experience in order to be able to learn all other words via definition alone? The answer may shed some light both on the developmental origin of word meanings and on the evolutionary origin and adaptive value of language. We used an algorithm to reduce each of our dictionaries (Longmans LDOCE, Cambridge CIDE and WordNet) to its “grounding kernel” (“Kernel”) (which turned out to be about 10% of the dictionary) by systematically eliminating..
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