In three experiments, we examined 17-month-olds’ acquisition of novel symbols
(words and gestures) as names for object categories. Experiment 1 compares infants’
extension of novel symbols when they are presented within a familiar naming phrase
(e.g., “Look at this [symbol]!”) versus presented alone (e.g., “Look! … [symbol]!”) Infants mapped novel gestures successfully in both naming contexts. However, in- fants mapped novel words only within the context of familiar naming phrases. Thus, although infants can learn both words and gestures, they have divergent expectations about the circumstances under which the 2 symbolic forms name objects. Experi- ments 2 and 3 test the hypothesis that infants’ expectations about the circumstances under which words that name objects are acquired by monitoring how adults indicate their intention to name. By employing a training paradigm, these two experiments demonstrated that infants can infer how an experimenter signals his or her intention to name an object on the basis of a very brief training experience.