The role of timing and prototypical causality on how preschoolers fast-map novel verb meanings

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Abbot-Smith, Kirsten ; Imai, Mutsumi ; Durrant, S ; Nurmsoo, Erika (2017)

In controlled contexts, young children find it more difficult to learn novel words for actions than words for objects: Imai et al. (2008) found that English-speaking three-year-olds mistakenly choose a novel object as a referent for a novel verb about 42% of the time despite hearing the verb in a transitive sentence. The current two studies investigated whether English three- and five-year-old children would find resultative actions easier (since they are prototypically causative) than the non-resultative, durative event types used in Imai et al.’s studies. The reverse was true. Furthermore, if the novel verbs were taught on completion of the action, this did not improve performance, which contrasts with previous findings (e.g. Tomasello & Kruger, 1992). Our resultative actions were punctual, change-of-location events which may be less visually salient than the non-resulative, durative actions. Visual salience may play a greater role than does degree of action causality in the relative ease of verb learning even at three years.
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