Faculty Scholarly Dissemination Grants


Correlating Body Experiences in Argument Structure Development




College of Liberal Arts and Sciences

Date Range



In complement to the growing literature suggesting that verb meaning and argument structure develops out of correlations in linguistic experience, we suggest that correlations with body experiences may also matter. Study 1 examines what body parts are most commonly associated with early learned verbs. 50 adults and 60 children (36-60 months) were asked to name the main body part suggested by each of 101 early-learned verbs (MCDI). Results indicate that adults and children form similar patterns of associations, wherein three major regions body regions organize verbs: HEAD, ARMS, and LEGS. Study 2 is an fMRI study presenting preschoolers with an oral list of verbs associated with LEGS, verbs associated with HANDS, and neutral adjectives. Results indicate that only verbs recruit motor regions in the developing brain and that LEG and HAND verbs activate different regions in the motor cortex. Study 3 examines transcripts of speech from 28 20-month-olds and their mothers and 28 28-month-olds and their mothers in the Bates Corpus on CHILDES (MacWhinney, 2000). The speech was examined for all uses of the 101 MCDI verbs in five sentential frame categories: [V], [V loc], [V NP], [V NP NP], [V NP loc], [V-S]. Verbs were coded for body part associations data according to results from Study 1. The results indicate strong correlations between particular body parts and specific syntactic frames. Taken together these studies suggest that it might be worth looking at the realtionship between body experiences and syntactic frames.

Conference Name

CSDL 10: The Conceptual Structure Discourse, and Language Conference (CSDL)

Conference Location

UC San Diego

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