Why nouns trump verbs in word learning: New evidence from children and adults in the Human Simulation Paradigm

Thomas B Piccin, Sandra R Waxman

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

Abstract

Despite tremendous cross-linguistic and cross-cultural variation in linguistic input, early vocabularies are dominated by nouns. One explanation for this pattern appeals to the conceptual capacity of the learner—nouns predominate because the concepts to which they refer are somehow simpler or more accessible to young learners than the concepts to which verbs refer. Evidence for this viewpoint has come primarily from infants and toddlers. Another explanation appeals to the linguistic requirements underlying word learning—nouns predominate because their acquisition is well-supported by observation, while verbs often depend on additional linguistic information which early word learners are not yet able to utilize. Evidence for this viewpoint has thus far come primarily from adults in the Human Simulation Paradigm (HSP). To bridge this gap, we modified the HSP task to accommodate children. Although children's approach to this task differed markedly from that of adults, their patterns of performance were strikingly similar. Given observation alone, 7-year-olds—like adults—identified nouns more successfully than verbs. When observation was supplemented with linguistic information, 7-year-olds successfully recruited this information to identify verbs. This outcome represents the first empirical demonstration that young children's noun advantage may be attributable, at least in part, to the distinct linguistic requirements underlying the acquisition of nouns and verbs.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)295-323
JournalLanguage Learning and Development
Volume3
DOIs
StatePublished - 2007

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