Preschoolers' Acquisition of Novel Verbs in the Double Object Dative

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Children have difficulty comprehending novel verbs in the double object dative (e.g., Fred blicked the dog a stick) as compared to the prepositional dative (e.g., Fred blicked a stick to the dog). We explored this pattern with 3 and 4 year olds (N = 60). In Experiment 1, we replicated the documented difficulty with the double object frame, even though we provided more contextual support. In Experiment 2, we tested a novel hypothesis that children would comprehend novel verbs in, and generalize them to, the double object frame if they were first familiarized to the verbs in the prepositional frame. They did, suggesting that part of their difficulty with the double object frame is due to uncertainty about a new verb's semantic/syntactic properties, information that the easy-to-comprehend prepositional frame provides. The benefits of training were short-lived, however; children again struggled after a 2-h delay. The results are discussed in the context of mechanisms underlying verb acquisition.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)831-854
Number of pages24
JournalCognitive Science
StatePublished - Apr 2017


  • Cross-structure training
  • Dative alternation
  • Double object dative
  • Language acquisition
  • Syntactic bootstrapping
  • Syntactic generalization
  • Verb learning

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Experimental and Cognitive Psychology
  • Cognitive Neuroscience
  • Artificial Intelligence


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