Twenty four-month-old infants' interpretations of novel verbs and nouns in dynamic scenes

Sandra R. Waxman*, Jeffrey L. Lidz, Irena E. Braun, Tracy Lavin

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

72 Scopus citations


The current experiments address several concerns, both empirical and theoretical in nature, that have surfaced within the verb learning literature. They begin to reconcile what, until now, has been a large and largely unexplained gap between infants' well-documented ability to acquire verbs in the natural course of their lives and their rather surprising failures to do so in many laboratory-based tasks. We presented 24-month-old infants with dynamic scenes (e.g., a man waving a balloon), and asked (a) whether infants could construe these scenes flexibly, noticing the consistent action (e.g., waving) as well as the consistent object (e.g., the balloon) and (b) whether their construals of the scenes were influenced by the grammatical form of a novel word used to describe them (verb or noun). We document that 24-month-olds' representations of novel words are sufficiently precise to permit them to map novel verbs to event categories (e.g., waving events) and novel nouns to object categories (e.g., balloons). We also document the time-course underlying infants' mapping of the novel words. These results beckon us to move beyond asking whether or not infants can represent verb meanings, and to consider instead the conditions that support successful verb learning in infants and young children.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)67-95
Number of pages29
JournalCognitive Psychology
Issue number1
StatePublished - Aug 2009


  • Concept development
  • Language acquisition
  • Word learning

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Neuropsychology and Physiological Psychology
  • Experimental and Cognitive Psychology
  • Developmental and Educational Psychology
  • Linguistics and Language
  • Artificial Intelligence


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