Nouns and Verbs

Acquisition and processing of nouns and verbs

The role and nature of linguistic categories is a long-standing and prominent topic in linguistics and typology. Word categories like nouns and verbs have also been a topic of psycholinguistic research, since they provide a window into the cognitive bases of grammatical class distinctions. In this post-doctoral project, processing of word categories – especially of nouns and verbs – is investigated in several domains:

  • word processing in unimpaired adults
  • acquisition of nouns and verbs in children learning different languages
  • impairments of word processing in populations with language disorders: aphasics and children with specific language impairment (SLI)
Theoretical background: Given that some structural differences between nouns and verbs exist in all languages, category-specific effects in processing and acquisition are to be expected. Second, the noun-verb distinction is more or less distinct in different languages, and nouns and verbs are more or less salient depending on language-specific characteristics. This fact leads to the assumption that the processing and acquisition of nouns and verbs may differ across languages.

Picture-based test material for production and comprehension of nouns and verbs, including 36 object labels and 36 action terms, balanced for subcategories (i.e. the same number of biological and man-made nouns, and of transitive and intransitive verbs). All stimuli are matched for age of spontaneous acquisition, frequency, and name agreement. Method: picture naming and word-picture-matching.

Example from the comprehension test (targets: „zebra“ and „push“):

Studies within the project and cooperation:

  • Initial test construction (naming) with Ria De Bleser (Potsdam University), Jackie Masterson (University of Essex), and Jules Davidoff (Goldsmiths College, University of London) within the ARC-DAAD program „the development of a picture naming test for nouns and verbs in German“.
  • Adult processing:
    • Naming latencies in unimpaired adults with Jenny Postler (Center for Applied Psycho- and Patholinguistics Berlin).
    • o Lexical decision experiment with uninflected and inflected nouns and verbs with Prisca Stenneken (University Eichstätt-Ingolstadt/ FU Berlin)
  • German data:
    • Acquisition of picture naming in German: naming data from 240 children at age 2;6 – 7;11. Analyses comprise quantitative and qualitative aspects, considering naming accuracy and error patterns.
    • Comprehension data from 233 children; age 2;0-6;11.
  • Crosslinguistic data:
    • Korean data was obtained in collaboration with Lee Hae-Wook (Pusan University of Foreign Studies) and Pae Soyeong (Hallym University) within a project supported by the Korean Research Foundation. Naming data from 240 Korean children was compared to the German data. Additionally, 10 German and 10 Korean SLI-children and age-matched control groups were tested for noun and verb comprehension and naming.
    • Data from 60 Turkish children was analysed (with support from Alkim Ari, FU Berlin) [see poster as PDF-file]
    • English data was collected in cooperation with Christina Schelletter (University of Hertfordshire) [see poster as PDF-file]
    • In preparation: Persian version of the naming test in collaboration with Reza Nilipour (University of Welfare & Rehabilitation Sciences, Universität Tehran)
  • Clinical studies:
    • Noun and verb naming in German aphasic patients (see De Bleser & Kauschke 2003)
    • Noun and verb naming and comprehension in German children with SLI compared to age-matched as well as MLU-matched controls (Kauschke 2007)

The results so far clearly point to a differential processing and acquisition of nouns and verbs: a noun advantage was observed across different populations, tasks, and languages. The cross-linguistic findings suggest that language-general tendencies as well as language-specific factors influence naming abilities, leading to parallels and variations in cross-linguistic comparisons. The findings contribute to the current discussion on the status of word categories in human cognition.

Prof. Dr. Christina Kauschke
Philipps-Universität Marburg
Institut für Germanistische Sprachwissenschaft
Pilgrimstein 16
D-35032 Marburg