The influence of language-specific and universal factors on acquisition of motion verbs

Rebecca Smyder, Kaitlyn Harrigan


This study explores children’s encoding of novel verbs referring to motion events, and finds influence of both language-specific and universal constraints on meaning. Motion verbs fall into two categories—manner verbs encode how a movement happens (run, swim), and path verbs encode the starting and ending point of a motion (enter, fall). Some languages express path more frequently in the verb (Spanish, Hebrew), and others manner more frequently (English, German). Our study expands on this previous work demonstrating sensitivity to these language-specific distributions, as well as expanding to test environmental factors representing a predictable universal distribution. We find that children are sensitive to both the language-specific factors as well as the universal factors in motion verb acquisition.


language acquisition; word learning; verb learning; verbs of motion

Full Text:



Copyright (c) 2021 Rebecca Smyder, Kaitlyn Harrigan

Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.

Donate to the Open-Access Fund of the LSA

Linguistic Society of America

Advancing the Scientific Study of Language since 1924

ISSN (online): 2473-8689

This publication is made available for free to readers and with no charge to authors thanks in part to your continuing LSA membership and your donations to the open access fund.