Date of Completion


Embargo Period



Marie Coppola, Whitney Tabor

Field of Study



Master of Arts

Open Access

Open Access


Most English descriptions of motion events express manner in the main verb and path in a prepositional phrase, as in “She skips out of the house”. However, the same event can be described differently if a different syntactic frame is used: “She exits the house”. While young children have been found to interpret novel motion verbs according to the syntactic frame information, adults have been found to rely somewhat more on the overall language pattern, or typology (Hohenstein et al., 2004; Naigles & Terrazas, 1998). Grade schoolers have not been examined in this paradigm, and their linguistic abilities suggest that they may show an important part of a developmental trajectory regarding the acquisition of motion verbs.

Sixty-four children grade schoolers and 12 adults viewed live-action events showing spontaneous motion events and heard 8 novel verbs in manner frames (“He’s daxing up the stairs”), and 8 in path frames (“He’s kradding the garage”). Side-by-side videos then showed the actor performing the same manner but a different path, or performing a different manner along the same path. The accompanying audio asked the participant to find the action matching the verb screen (e.g. “Choose kradding”).

Children of all ages chose more manner than path interpretations in both conditions, while adults showed fewer manner interpretations in the path frame condition. As the path frame condition progressed, children chose gradually more path interpretations; moreover, eye movement data show that children looked towards the path screen more during the path frame condition. Support for a u-shaped developmental trajectory and a shift from language-general to language-specific word-learning mechanisms are discussed.

Major Advisor

Letitia R. Naigles