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

Kirsten Abbot-Smith, Mutsumi Imai, Samantha Durrant, Erika Nurmsoo

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

6 Citations (Scopus)


In controlled contexts, young children find it more difficult to learn novel words for actions than words for objects: Imai et al. 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. The resultative actions in the two studies reported here 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.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)186-204
Number of pages19
JournalFirst Language
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - 2017 Apr


  • Pointing
  • Pre-schoolers
  • Resultative
  • Transitive
  • Verb learning

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Language and Linguistics
  • Education
  • Linguistics and Language


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