It Takes Two to Tango: Understanding and Acquiring Symmetrical Verbs

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Children's ability to understand symmetrical verbs was investigated, along with adults' use of linguistic and visual cues to learn novel symmetrical verbs. Symmetrical verbs encode a relationship r between two entities such that X r Y entails Y r X. In Experiment 1, sixteen children (mean age 4;8) acted out two types of sentences with symmetrical and asymmetrical verbs. Eight adult judges viewed videotapes of the children's performance and tried to guess what sentence type was being enacted. Judges' performance was predicted (p < .05) by the verb type, symmetrical or asymmetrical. In Experiment 2, seventy-two adult subjects received visual and linguistic cues to the meanings of novel verbs. Both cue types affected subjects' judgments about whether the new verbs were symmetrical or asymmetrical (p < .05).

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)385-411
Number of pages27
JournalJournal of Psycholinguistic Research
Issue number3
StatePublished - May 1998

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Experimental and Cognitive Psychology
  • Language and Linguistics
  • Linguistics and Language
  • General Psychology


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