During language acquisition a child can learn 20 words a day. What would happen if the parent decided to lie to the child during this time so that whenever the child said "what that?" the parent made up a random word.

Would this permanently stay in the child's mind forever? Or would the child just learn the "real" word from everyday speech?

As an aside, for years I thought the word "modest" meant the opposite of what it means. Because it is only ever said sarcastically. As in "wow, your sooooo modest!" And that's just one word.

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    $\begingroup$ The '20 words per day' might be 'common knowledge', but to improve your question you could link to the sources where you learned about this. Regardless, +1 $\endgroup$
    – Steven Jeuris
    Aug 10, 2018 at 10:44

1 Answer 1


You would need a conspiracy of many people to prank a child with this kind of thing, because kids are really good at tracking the information value of sources. If you give a different random word every time they'll discount you as an information source, if you give the same random word every time they'll learn it... and use it only with you (more or less, but increasingly so with age/experience.) See Birch et al. (2008) for more details.

You might also have fun with the literature on early bilingualism, which is basically this situation, right? Kids are phenomenal at this. See for example Liberman et al. (2017).

Birch, S. A., Vauthier, S. A., & Bloom, P. (2008). [Three-and four-year-olds spontaneously use others’ past performance to guide their learning.][] Cognition, 107(3), 1018-1034.
Liberman, Z., Woodward, A. L., Keysar, B., & Kinzler, K. D. (2017). Exposure to multiple languages enhances communication skills in infancy. Developmental science, 20(1), e12420.

  • $\begingroup$ Interesting. But don't children instinctively trust their parents more. So if it was the parent who was lying to them it might fool them even more? $\endgroup$
    – zooby
    Aug 9, 2018 at 23:00
  • $\begingroup$ Also, this seems to contradict the idea of "one shot learning" if the child does indeed need several examples. $\endgroup$
    – zooby
    Aug 9, 2018 at 23:01
  • $\begingroup$ I don't think there's any contradiction with one-shot learning. One-shot learning just implies the nonsense word would stay available in the child's memory and be recognized on a second presentation. It's true that children can use a kind of exclusion/exclusivity rule to correctly infer that unfamiliar names probably refer to unfamiliar objects, but the example of bi+lingual kids shows that one-shot learning does not imply one-shot exclusivity. $\endgroup$ Aug 10, 2018 at 14:10
  • $\begingroup$ Oh OK. So "one-shot-learning" means something different to what I thought. It is more a storing of the word in memory rather than an immediate association. $\endgroup$
    – zooby
    Aug 10, 2018 at 14:14
  • $\begingroup$ The 'association' you're talking about could be the thing that is remembered? Just trying to say that whatever is learned doesn't necessarily stop you learning other names for that thing too. $\endgroup$ Aug 10, 2018 at 14:35

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