CHILDES, heavy verbs, language acquisition, lexical co-occurrence, light verbs, semantic association, transitive


Many of the verbs that young children learn early have been characterized as ‘light.’ However, there is no agreed upon definition of ‘lightness’ and no usable metric that could be applied to a wide array of verbs. This article provides evidence for one metric by which the ‘lightness’ of early-learned verbs might be measured: the number of objects with which they are associated (in adult judgment) or co-occur (in speech to and by children). The results suggest that early-learned light verbs and heavy verbs differ in the breadth of the objects they are associated with: light verbs have weak associations with specific objects, whereas heavy verbs are strongly associated with specific objects. However, there is an indication that verbs have narrower associations to objects in speech to children. The methodological usefulness of this metric is discussed as are the implications of the patterns of distributions for children’s learning of common verbs.


Original Citation: Maouene, Josita, Aarre Laakso, and Linda B. Smith. "Object Associations of Early-Learned Light and Heavy English Verbs." First Language 31, no. 1 (2011): 109-132.