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Imageability predicts the age of acquisition of verbs in Chinese children*



Verbs are harder to learn than nouns in English and in many other languages, but are relatively easy to learn in Chinese. This paper evaluates one potential explanation for these findings by examining the construct of imageability, or the ability of a word to produce a mental image. Chinese adults rated the imageability of Chinese words from the Chinese Communicative Development Inventory (Tardif et al., in press). Imageability ratings were a reliable predictor of age of acquisition in Chinese for both nouns and verbs. Furthermore, whereas early Chinese and English nouns do not differ in imageability, verbs receive higher imageability ratings in Chinese than in English. Compared with input frequency, imageability independently accounts for a portion of the variance in age of acquisition (AoA) of verb learning in Chinese and English.


Corresponding author

Address for correspondence: Weiyi Ma, School of Education, University of Delaware, Newark, DE 19716. e-mail:


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We thank our laboratory coordinators Amanda Brandone and Rebecca Seston, graduate student Lulu Song, and StatLab at the University of Delaware for their assistance on this paper. We also thank all the participants in China. This research was funded by joint grants to the second and third authors: From NSF, Grants SBR9601306 and SBR9615391 and from NIH, RO1HD050199. The Mandarin CDI data were collected with the assistance of the Research Grants Council of Hong Kong's Earmarked Research Grant # HKU 7158/99H to Paul Fletcher and Twila Tardif.



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Imageability predicts the age of acquisition of verbs in Chinese children*



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