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Early acquisition of verbs in Korean: a cross-linguistic study

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  26 September 2008

Soonja Choi*
San Diego State University
Alison Gopnik
University of California at Berkeley
[*] Department of Linguistics, San Diego State University, San Diego, CA 92182, USA. e-mail:


This cross-linguistic study investigates children's early lexical development in English and Korean, and compares caregivers' linguistic input in the two languages. In Study 1, the lexical development of nine Korean children was followed from 1;2 to 1;10 by monthly visits and maternal reports. These Korean data were compared to previously collected English longitudinal data. We find that: (1) Korean children as young as 1;3 use verbs productively with appropriate inflections. (2) Seven of the nine children show a verb spurt at around 1;7; for six of these children the verb spurt occurs before the noun spurt. No such early verb spurt is found in the English data. Unlike in English, both verbs and nouns in Korean are dominant categories from the single-word stage. (3) Korean children express language-specific distinctions of locative actions with verbs. Study 2, a crosslinguistic study of caregivers' input in English and Korean, shows that Korean mothers provide more action verbs but fewer object nouns than American mothers. Also, Korean mothers engage in activity-oriented discourse significantly more than American mothers. Our study suggests that verbs are accessible to children from the beginning, and that they may be acquired early in children who are encouraged to do so by their language-specific grammar and input.

Copyright © Cambridge University Press 1995

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