On the acquisition of motion verbs cross-linguistically

Languages encode motion in strikingly different ways. Languages such as English communicate the manner of motion through verbs (e.g., roll, pop), while languages such as Greek often lexicalize the path of motion in verbs (e.g., ascend, pass). In a set of studies with English- and Greek-speaking adults and 5-year-olds, we ask how such lexical constraints are combined with structural cues in hypothesizing meanings for novel motion verbs. We show that lexicalization biases generate different interpretations of novel motion verbs across ages and languages; furthermore, they generalize to the domain of caused motion. Crucially, these language-specific effects interact with universal mappings between syntactic structure and semantic content, and these interactions are respected by both adults and young children.
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