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

  • Soonja Choi (a1) and Alison Gopnik (a2)
  • DOI:
  • Published online: 01 September 2008

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.

Corresponding author
[*] Department of Linguistics, San Diego State University, San Diego, CA 92182, USA. e-mail:
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S. Choi (1991). Early acquisition of epistemic meanings in Korean: a study of sentence-ending suffixes in the spontaneous speech of three children. First Language 11, 93119.

S. Choi & M. Bowerman (1991). Learning to express motion events in English and Korean: the influence of language-specific lexicalization patterns. Cognition 41, 83121.

A. Fernald & H. Morikawa (1993). Common themes and cultural variations in Japanese and American mothers' speech to infants. Child Development 64, 637–56.

A. Gopnik (1988). Three types of early words: the emergence of social words, names, and cognitive-relational words in the one-word stage and their relation to cognitive development. First Language 8, 4969.

A. Gopnik & S. Choi (1990). Do linguistic differences lead to cognitive differences? A crosslinguistic study of semantic and cognitive development. First Language 10, 199215.

A. Gopnik & A. Meltzoff (1986). Relations between semantic and cognitive development in the one-word stage: the specificity hypothesis. Child Development 57, 1040–53.

A. Gopnik & A. Meltzoff (1987). The development of categorization in the second year and its relation to other cognitive and linguistic developments. Child Development 58, 1523–31.

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Journal of Child Language
  • ISSN: 0305-0009
  • EISSN: 1469-7602
  • URL: /core/journals/journal-of-child-language
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