Learning Verbs in English and Korean: The Roles of Word Order and Argument Drop

Huanhuan Shi, Angela Xiaoxue He, Hyun Joo Song, Kyong Sun Jin, Sudha Arunachalam

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


To learn new words, particularly verbs, child learners have been shown to benefit from the linguistic contexts in which the words appear. However, cross-linguistic differences affect how this process unfolds. One previous study found that children’s abilities to learn a new verb differed across Korean and English as a function of the sentence in which the verb occurred. The authors hypothesized that the properties of word order and argument drop, which vary systematically in these two languages, were driving the differences. In the current study, we pursued this finding to ask if the difference persists later in development, or if children acquiring different languages come to appear more similar as their linguistic knowledge and learning capacities increase. Preschool-aged monolingual English learners (N = 80) and monolingual Korean learners (N = 64) were presented with novel verbs in contexts that varied in word order and argument drop and accompanying visual stimuli. We assessed their learning by measuring accuracy in a forced-choice pointing task, and we measured eye gaze during the learning phase as an indicator of the processes by which they mapped the novel verbs to meaning. Unlike previous studies which identified differences between English and Korean learning 2-year-olds in a similar task, our results revealed similarities between the two language groups with these older preschoolers. We interpret our results as evidence that over the course of early childhood, children become adept at learning from a large variety of contexts, such that differences between learners of different languages are attenuated.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)19-39
Number of pages21
JournalLanguage Learning and Development
Issue number1
StatePublished - 2024

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Education
  • Language and Linguistics
  • Linguistics and Language


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