When does the transition from mere associative understanding to referential understanding of nouns emerge?

Infants’ ability to recognize and reference the meaning of familiar words gradually increases over the 2nd year of life. Initially, infants’ understanding of familiar words is restricted to certain contexts containing cues to aid recognition. Although at the beginning of word learning these cues are essential to highlighting novel word-object relationships, eventually the infant must be able to reference a word’s meaning when presented with speech devoid of these cues. Interim results suggest that 14-month-olds can reference the meaning of familiar words (ball, car, shoe, dog) without the most salient cues to word recognition: joint attention, visual referent, and frequently-used sentence frame. Follow up studies are being conducted to determine if infants’ word-object referencing abilities can be generalized to different types of exemplars.