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Body Parts Correlates of Early-Learned Verbs in Children




College of Liberal Arts and Sciences

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Literature on verb acquisition has mainly focused on abstraction and concreteness for verb acquisition whereas the analysis presented here points to an embodied perspective on word learning, examining whether early-learned verbs are associated with distinct parts of the body by children. Former results described how adults systematically and coherently correlate early learned verbs with five main body regions. However, the question remains whether 3-to 5- year-olds have the same systematic and coherent associations for the same verbs. We examined 102 verbs that are typically used by 3-to 5-years-old speakers of English. We asked an average of 15 children to give us which body part they use when performing an action for 21 verbs at a time. From these judgments, we created a body part vector for each verb. Nested body parts (e.g., lip, mouth, teeth, head) were treated separately. For example, the meaning vector for bite is: 13 mouth, 7 teeth, as these are the answers of the 20 children who each gave one body part when asked about bite. A correspondence analysis indicated that four dimensions of the correlations children made, as these correspond to ear-verbs=dimension 1, mouth-verbs=dimension 2, eye-and-brain-verbs=dimension 3, arm-and-leg-verbs=dimension 4. The adult data and the children data correlate. Developmentally, the earliest verbs acquire are mainly correlated with mouth- and leg- verbs, then, hand-verbs dominate, and finally, the latest verbs acquired have multiple body part correlations. Further, verbs that are learned the earliest have the strongest body part associations in children, a result also found in adults.

Conference Name

Midwestern Psychological Association

Conference Location


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