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Differential productivity in young children's use of nouns and verbs

  • MICHAEL TOMASELLO (a1), NAMEERA AKHTAR (a1), KELLY DODSON (a1) and LAURA REKAU (a1)

Abstract

A fundamental question of child language acquisition is children's productivity with newly learned forms. The current study addressed this question experimentally with children just beginning to combine words. Ten children between 1;6 and 1;11 were taught four new words, two nouns and two verbs, over multiple sessions. All four words were modelled in minimal syntactic contexts. The experimenter gave children multiple opportunities to produce the words and made attempts to elicit morphological endings (plural for nouns, past tense for verbs). Overall, children combined the novel nouns productively with already known words much more often than they did the novel verbs – by many orders of magnitude. Several children also pluralized a newly learned noun, whereas none of them formed a past tense with a newly learned verb. A follow-up study using a slightly different methodology confirmed the finding of limited syntactic productivity with verbs. Hypotheses accounting for this asymmetry in the early use of nouns and verbs are discussed.

Copyright

Corresponding author

Address for correspondence: Michael Tomasello, Department of Psychology, Emory University, Atlanta, GA 30322, USA.

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The authors express their appreciation to the directors, teachers, parents and children of North Druid Hills United Methodist Preschool, Druid Hills Child Development Center and Georgia Baptist Medical Center Child Care and Resource Center. Also thanks to Danielle Weir, Lineo Lowe, Madhur Sancheti, Mary Gabbett and Scott Linacre for assistance with data collection. This research was supported by a grant from the Spencer Foundation to the first author.

Footnotes

Differential productivity in young children's use of nouns and verbs

  • MICHAEL TOMASELLO (a1), NAMEERA AKHTAR (a1), KELLY DODSON (a1) and LAURA REKAU (a1)

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