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Cognitive Linguistics

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Volume 22, Issue 2 (Jan 2011)


Children use verb semantics to retreat from overgeneralization errors: A novel verb grammaticality judgment study

Ben Ambridge
  • Corresponding author
  • University of Liverpool
  • Email:
/ Julian M. Pine
  • University of Liverpool
/ Caroline F. Rowland
  • University of Liverpool
Published Online: 2011-04-17 | DOI: https://doi.org/10.1515/cogl.2011.012


Whilst certain verbs may appear in both the intransitive inchoative and the transitive causative constructions (The ball rolled/The man rolled the ball), others may appear in only the former (The man laughed/*The joke laughed the man). Some accounts argue that children acquire these restrictions using only (or mainly) statistical learning mechanisms such as entrenchment and pre-emption. Others have argued that verb semantics are also important. To test these competing accounts, adults (Experiment 1) and children aged 5–6 and 9–10 (Experiment 2) were taught novel verbs designed to be construed — on the basis of their semantics — as either intransitive-only or alternating. In support of the latter claim, participants' grammaticality judgments revealed that even the youngest group respected these semantic constraints. Frequency (entrenchment) effects were observed for familiar, but not novel, verbs (Experiment 1). We interpret these findings in the light of a new theoretical account designed to yield effects of both verb semantics and entrenchment/pre-emption.

Keywords.: Argument structure overgeneralization error; transitive; intransitive; semantic verb class hypothesis; entrenchment; no negative evidence problem; retreat from overgeneralization

About the article

Received: 2009-06-26

Revised: 2010-07-30

Published Online: 2011-04-17

Published in Print: 2011-05-01

Citation Information: Cognitive Linguistics, ISSN (Online) 1613-3641, ISSN (Print) 0936-5907, DOI: https://doi.org/10.1515/cogl.2011.012. Export Citation

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