Action Meets Word: How Children Learn Verbs

Action Meets Word: How Children Learn Verbs

Action Meets Word: How Children Learn Verbs

Action Meets Word: How Children Learn Verbs

Synopsis

Words are the building blocks of language. An understanding of how words are learned is thus central to any theory of language acquisition. Although there has been a surge in our understanding of children's vocabulary growth, theories of word learning focus primarily on object nouns. Word learning theories must explain not only the learning of object nouns, but also the learning of other, major classes of words - verbs and adjectives. Verbs form the hub of the sentence because they determine the sentence's argument structure. Researchers throughout the world recognize how our understanding of language acquisition can be at best partial if we cannot comprehend how verbs are learned. This volume enters the relatively uncharted waters of early verb learning, focusing on the universal, conceptual foundations for verb learning, and how these foundations intersect with the burgeoning language system.

Excerpt

Word learning has come of age. And just as children take risks at adolescence, the field of word learning has taken a risk by moving into the area of verb acquisition. Adolescents who learn to take careful, socially acceptable risks do so because they have been lucky enough to experience good parenting. Along the way, we have had guidance from some of the best, people whose work and perspective infuses the chapters of this book. Their work has become the backdrop for the field, sometimes in ways that now seem so obvious that their contributions are taken for granted. Of course, we refer to ovarial work by Lila Gleitman, Lois Bloom, Steven Pinker, and Michael Tomasello, who knew that the field of word learning would never mature if it did not move beyond the study of nouns. Ten years ago the field took its first tentative steps with an influential volume on verb learning edited by Michael Tomasello and William Merriman, appropriately called, Beyond Names for Things. Look how we've grown!

This volume represents a proliferation of research on this exciting new frontier and expands greatly on what we knew about verb learning a decade ago. Just as Chomsky once said that “language is a window on the mind,” verbs provide a window on the relational thinking that makes us human.

There are many to thank for this volume. We thank the authors of these chapters, a wonderfully professional and responsive group. We feel fortunate to be in such company. Readers should recognize, however, that this volume does not represent the full force of the field; as our chapters became finalized, other stimulating research emerged that might well have been included. Thanks also go to our superb laboratory coordinators (Amanda Brandone and Meredith Jones), who allowed us to focus on assembling the volume, and to our graduate students (Shannon Pruden, Rachel Pulverman, Sara Salkind, Julia Parrish, and Weiyi Ma) who read the chapters with us and served as apprentice editors. Undoubtedly, students . . .

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