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Contingencies between verbs, body parts, and argument structures in maternal and child speech: a corpus study



Prior work on argument structure development has shown connections between abstract verb meaning and argument structure; neuroimaging and behavioral studies have shown connections between verb meaning and body effectors. Here we examine the contingencies between verbs, their most likely body region pairing, and argument structure. We ask whether the verbs used in six common syntactic frames are specifically linked to one of three main regions of the body: head, arm, leg. The speech of 20-month-olds (N = 67), 28-month-olds (N = 27), and their mothers (N = 54) (CHILDES: MacWhinney, 2000) was examined for the use of early-learned verbs (MCDI: Fenson, Dale, Reznick, Bates, Thal, & Pethick, 1994). In total, 89 verb types in 3321 utterances were coded for their associations with the head, arm, and leg body regions (associations taken from Maouene, Hidaka, & Smith, 2008). Significant non-random relations are found both overall and for each age group in analyses using multiple chi-square tests of independence and goodness-of-fit. These results are discussed in terms of their relevance for both argument structure development and embodied cognition, as evidence supporting a developmental path that has not been previously examined, in which the infant can use early and concrete perception-action information to learn later abstract syntactic achievements.


Corresponding author

Address for correspondence: Josita Maouene, Psychology Department, Grand Valley State University, 2105 Au Sable Hall, 1, Campus Dr., Allendale, MI 49401. e-mail:


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Contingencies between verbs, body parts, and argument structures in maternal and child speech: a corpus study



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