Research Paper

A developmental analysis of similarity neighborhoods in European Portuguese


We present a developmental analysis of the structural organization of young children's and adults’ lexicons for European Portuguese. The production lexicons of 3-, 4-, and 5-year-olds, a receptive lexicon for 12- to 19-month-olds, and an adult lexicon were compared using the similarity neighborhood paradigm (e.g., Charles-Luce & Luce, 1990). For each lexicon, similarity neighborhoods were computed for words with 3 to 8 phonemes, and phonological neighborhood sizes were compared. A phonological neighbor was defined as any word in one of the lexicons that differed from a given target by one phoneme substitution, deletion, or addition. Results showed structural differences between shorter (3-, 4- and 5-phoneme) and longer (6- to 8-phoneme) words. There was no age effect for longer words, of which ca. 92% had no neighbors. Shorter words, in contrast, had more neighbors: in the children's lexicons, ca. 58% of shorter words had one to four neighbors, and 8% had five to seven neighbors; only ca. 36% had no neighbors. An age effect was found, whereby similarity neighborhoods become increasingly dense over the course of childhood. The results are discussed in light of previous findings for English-speaking children and adults, and their implications for the development of spoken word recognition by Portuguese listeners are considered.

How to Cite

Vicente, S. & Castro, S. & Walley, A., (2003) “A developmental analysis of similarity neighborhoods in European Portuguese”, Journal of Portuguese Linguistics 2(1), p.115-133. doi:







Selene Vicente (Universidade do Porto, Portugal)
São Luís Castro (Universidade do Porto, Portugal)
Amanda Walley (Univeristy of Alabama, at Birmingham)



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Creative Commons Attribution 4.0


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