Network models of language have provided a way of linking cognitive processes to language structure. However, current approaches focus only on one linguistic relationship at a time, missing the complex multi-relational nature of language. In this work, we overcome this limitation by modelling the mental lexicon of English-speaking toddlers as a multiplex lexical network, i.e. a multi-layered network where N = 529 words/nodes are connected according to four relationship: (i) free association, (ii) feature sharing, (iii) co-occurrence, and (iv) phonological similarity. We investigate the topology of the resulting multiplex and then proceed to evaluate single layers and the full multiplex structure on their ability to predict empirically observed age of acquisition data of English speaking toddlers. We find that the multiplex topology is an important proxy of the cognitive processes of acquisition, capable of capturing emergent lexicon structure. In fact, we show that the multiplex structure is fundamentally more powerful than individual layers in predicting the ordering with which words are acquired. Furthermore, multiplex analysis allows for a quantification of distinct phases of lexical acquisition in early learners: while initially all the multiplex layers contribute to word learning, after about month 23 free associations take the lead in driving word acquisition.
Stella, M., Beckage, N.M., Brede, M.: Multiplex lexical networks reveal patterns in early word acquisition in children, Scientific Reports, https://doi.org/10.1038/srep46730