Saturday, April 23, 2011

How do children learn the difference between 'laying' and 'standing' a bottle on a table in Tamil, Dutch (and other languages)?

From the current issue of the Journal of Child Language: "The role of input frequency and semantic transparency in the acquisition of verb meaning: evidence from placement verbs in Tamil and Dutch" by Bhuvana Narasimhan and Marianne Gullberg
Here's the abstract:
We investigate how Tamil- and Dutch-speaking adults and four- to five-year-old children use caused posture verbs (‘lay/stand a bottle on a table’) to label placement events in which objects are oriented vertically or horizontally. Tamil caused posture verbs consist of morphemes that individually label the causal and result subevents (nikka veyyii ‘make stand’; paDka veyyii ‘make lie’), occurring in situational and discourse contexts where object orientation is at issue. Dutch caused posture verbs are less semantically transparent: they are monomorphemic (zetten ‘set/stand’; leggen ‘lay’), often occurring in contexts where factors other than object orientation determine use. Caused posture verbs occur rarely in Tamil input corpora; in Dutch input, they are used frequently. Elicited production data reveal that Tamil four-year-olds use infrequent placement verbs appropriately whereas Dutch children use high-frequency placement verbs inappropriately even at age five. Semantic transparency exerts a stronger influence than input frequency in constraining children's verb meaning acquisition.