Let’s See a Boy and a Balloon: Argument Labels and Syntactic Frame in Verb Learning

Sudha Arunachalam, Sandra R. Waxman

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


It is by now well established that toddlers use the linguistic context in which a new word—and particularly a new verb—appears to discover aspects of its meaning. But what aspects of the linguistic context are most useful? To begin to investigate this, we ask how 2-year-olds use two sources of linguistic information that are known to be useful to older children and adults in verb guessing tasks: syntactic frame and the semantic content available in the noun phrases labeling the verb’s arguments. We manipulate the linguistic contexts in which we present novel verbs to see how they use these two sources of information, both separately and in combination, to acquire the verb’s meaning. Our results reveal that, like older children and adults, toddlers make use of both syntactic frame and semantically contentful argument labels to acquire verb meaning. But toddlers also require these two sources of information to be packaged in a particular way, into a single sentence that identifies “who did what to whom.”

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)117-131
Number of pages15
JournalLanguage Acquisition
Issue number2
StatePublished - Apr 3 2015

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Language and Linguistics
  • Education
  • Linguistics and Language


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