Slowly but Surely: Adverbs Support Verb Learning in 2-Year-Olds

Kristen Syrett*, Sudha Arunachalam, Sandra R. Waxman

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

24 Scopus citations


To acquire the meanings of verbs, toddlers make use of the surrounding linguistic information. For example, 2-year-olds successfully acquire novel transitive verbs that appear in semantically rich frames containing content nouns ("The boy is gonna pilk a balloon"), but they have difficulty with pronominal frames ("He is gonna pilk it") (Arunachalam & Waxman, 2010). We hypothesized that adverbs might facilitate toddlers' verb learning in these sparse pronominal frames if their semantic content directed toddlers' attention to aspects of the event that are relevant to the verb's meaning (e.g., the manner of motion). As predicted, the semantic information from a specific manner-of-motion adverb (slowly) supported verb learning, but other adverbs lacking this semantic content (nicely, right now) did not. These results provide the first evidence that adverbs can facilitate verb learning in toddlers and highlight the interaction of syntactic and semantic information in word learning.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)263-278
Number of pages16
JournalLanguage Learning and Development
Issue number3
StatePublished - Jul 2014

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Education
  • Language and Linguistics
  • Linguistics and Language


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