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Pronouns and verbs in adult speech to children: A corpus analysis*

  • AARRE LAAKSO (a1) and LINDA B. SMITH (a1)


Assessing whether domain-general mechanisms could account for language acquisition requires determining whether statistical regularities among surface cues in child directed speech (CDS) are sufficient for inducing deep syntactic and semantic structure. This paper reports a case study on the relation between pronoun usage in CDS, on the one hand, and broad verb classes, on the other. A corpus analysis reveals statistical regularities in co-occurrences between pronouns and verbs in CDS that could cue physical versus psychological verbs. A simulation demonstrates that a simple statistical learner can acquire these regularities and exploit them to activate verbs that are consistent with incomplete utterances in simple syntactic frames. Thus, in this case, surface regularities are sufficiently informative for inducing broad semantic categories. Children might use these regularities in pronoun/verb co-occurrences to help learn verbs, although whether they actually do so remains a topic of ongoing research.


Corresponding author

Address for correspondence: Aarre Laakso, Department of Psychological & Brain Sciences, Indiana University, 1101 E. 10th Street, Bloomington, IN 47405, USA. Email:


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Pronouns and verbs in adult speech to children: A corpus analysis*

  • AARRE LAAKSO (a1) and LINDA B. SMITH (a1)


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