(2004). The role of scene and syntax in mental verb learning. Res: Journal of Undergraduate Research and Writing, 1, 74-97.
Abstract: Children acquire language at astonishing rates, learning roughly ten words a day during the early stages of acquisition. However, children appear inclined to acquire and produce some word classes prior to and more readily than others. Verbs in general, and mental state verbs specifically, are among the last types of words learned. Not only are verbs arguably more abstract than nouns, and therefore conceptually difficult for children undergoing rapid cognitive development, verbs require specific extra-linguistic scenes and syntactic environments for appropriate word-to-world mapping. In the present work, we explored the effect of scene type and syntax on the acquisition of mental verbs in preschoolers, aged three to five. Results demonstrated that children were significantly more likely to offer a mental verb response when presented with a scene featuring a false belief. Subordinate clause prompts resulted in a similarly significant facilitation effect for mental verbs. The results paralleled those of the adult controls. The results supported the hypothesis that scene and syntax were powerful cues in mental verb learning, independent of conceptual sophistication.