Toddlers Default to Canonical Surface-to-Meaning Mapping When Learning Verbs

Isabelle Dautriche, Alejandrina Cristia, Perrine Brusini, Sylvia Yuan, Cynthia Fisher, Anne Christophe

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Previous work has shown that toddlers readily encode each noun in the sentence as a distinct argument of the verb. However, languages allow multiple mappings between form and meaning that do not fit this canonical format. Two experiments examined French 28-month-olds' interpretation of right-dislocated sentences (nouni-verb, nouni) where the presence of clear, language-specific cues should block such a canonical mapping. Toddlers (N = 96) interpreted novel verbs embedded in these sentences as transitive, disregarding prosodic cues to dislocation (Experiment 1) but correctly interpreted right-dislocated sentences containing well-known verbs (Experiment 2). These results suggest that toddlers can integrate multiple cues in ideal conditions, but default to canonical surface-to-meaning mapping when extracting structural information about novel verbs in semantically impoverished conditions.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1168-1180
Number of pages13
JournalChild development
Issue number3
StatePublished - 2014

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Pediatrics, Perinatology, and Child Health
  • Education
  • Developmental and Educational Psychology


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