Infants use known verbs to learn novel nouns: Evidence from 15- and 19-month-olds

Brock Ferguson*, Eileen Graf, Sandra R. Waxman

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

44 Scopus citations


Fluent speakers' representations of verbs include semantic knowledge about the nouns that can serve as their arguments. These "selectional restrictions" of a verb can in principle be recruited to learn the meaning of a novel noun. For example, the sentence He ate the carambola licenses the inference that carambola refers to something edible. We ask whether 15- and 19-month-old infants can recruit their nascent verb lexicon to identify the referents of novel nouns that appear as the verbs' subjects. We compared infants' interpretation of a novel noun (e.g., the dax) in two conditions: one in which dax is presented as the subject of animate-selecting construction (e.g., The dax is crying), and the other in which dax is the subject of an animacy-neutral construction (e.g., The dax is right here). Results indicate that by 19. months, infants use their representations of known verbs to inform the meaning of a novel noun that appears as its argument.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)139-146
Number of pages8
Issue number1
StatePublished - Apr 2014


  • Infants
  • Language development
  • Nouns
  • Selectional restrictions
  • Verbs
  • Word learning

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Experimental and Cognitive Psychology
  • Language and Linguistics
  • Developmental and Educational Psychology
  • Linguistics and Language
  • Cognitive Neuroscience


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