Learning Individual Verbs and the Verb System: When Are Multiple Examples Helpful?

Mutsumi Imai, Jane B. Childers

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapter

3 Citations (Scopus)


This chapter focuses on the problem of verb learning, including learning the meaning of a single new verb and learning the verb system in a language. Verb learning occurs in three phases: finding the core of meaning, discovering dominant patterns in a language, and delineating boundaries between individual verbs. In the first phase, two types of perceptual similarity are shown to be useful—sound symbolism and object similarity. Children benefit from seeing high-similarity examples before low-similarity ones (progressive alignment), as well as from contrast. After describing how children may discover patterns within a language, we focus on how children learn a verb within an overall system by describing verbs for carrying/holding in Chinese. Children between 3 and 7 years produced fewer verbs than their mothers, better approximated adult verb meanings with age. MDS and INDSCAL analyses reveal they attended to the objects in the events and reveal three semantic islands of verb meaning. An entropy analysis shows that there is an early stage of verb learning in which input frequency is important and a later stage in which the degree of boundary overlap with other verbs affects their ease of acquisition. In sum, the chapter shows children’s use of multiple exemplars for verb learning, using structure mapping as a theoretical framework, and addressing the whole of verb learning in development.

Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationLanguage and Concept Acquisition from Infancy Through Childhood
Subtitle of host publicationLearning from Multiple Exemplars
PublisherSpringer International Publishing
Number of pages28
ISBN (Electronic)9783030355944
ISBN (Print)9783030355937
Publication statusPublished - 2020 Jan 1


  • Comparison
  • Contrast
  • Language-specific semantic systems
  • Lexicon
  • Verbs
  • Word learning

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General Psychology
  • General Arts and Humanities
  • General Social Sciences


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