ISSN 0439-755X
CN 11-1911/B

Acta Psychologica Sinica ›› 2014, Vol. 46 ›› Issue (7): 912-921.doi: 10.3724/SP.J.1041.2014.00912

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Associations of Body Parts and Early-Learned Mandarin Verbs and Their Effect on AoA of These Verbs

CHEN Yongxiang;ZHU Liqi   

  1. (1 Institute of Psychology, Chinese Academy of Sciences, Beijing 100101, China) (2 School of Education Science, Shanxi University, Taiyuan 030006, China)
  • Received:2013-07-31 Published:2014-07-25 Online:2014-07-25
  • Contact: ZHU Liqi


Though verbs are more difficult to learn than nouns in many languages, including English and other western languages, Chinese-speaking children learn many verbs before three years old and demonstrate only a weak ‘noun bias’ (Tardif et al., 2009). Ma et al. (2009) found that the imageability of early-learned Chinese verbs was higher than that of early-learned English verbs, and that imageability could partly explain the variance of age of acquisition (AoA) when input frequency was controlled. However, why early-learned Chinese verbs are highly imageable still remains unclear. The present study hypothesizes that early-learned Chinese verbs may have strong associations with specific body parts, and these associations may increase these verbs’ imageability and, in effect, lower their AoA. In Study One, a free association task using 50 Chinese adult participants examined relationships between body parts and 169 early-learned Chinese action verbs taken from the Chinese Communicative Development Inventory (Tardif et al., 2008). The free association task was adopted from Maouene’s (2008) study, wherein “adults were asked to provide the single body part that came to mind when they thought of each verb”. In Study Two, the imageability of these verbs was rated by 30 Chinese adults, and these ratings were used to assess a possible relationship between verb-body part associations and AoA. The results confirmed our hypothesis. The main findings of the present study are as follows: 1) Most early-learned Chinese verbs have associations with a specific body region; 2) Chinese children first learned verbs that had strong associations with the hand and arm area, and then learned verbs that were associated with mouth, leg, and other regions; 3) The number of body regions that verbs were associated with could account for 12% of variances of imageablity; 4) There was a positive relationship between verb-body part association (i.e., the number of body regions that verbs were associated with) and the AoA of these verbs, with imageability demonstrating a partial mediation effect. This latter finding also supports Ma’s (2009) results connecting imageability to AoA. The results of the present study suggest that early-learned Chinese verbs have consistent associations with body regions, and the strength of such associations affects the AoA of these verbs through imageability. These results might help explain why Chinese children learn many verbs at a young age. Moreover, the acquisition pattern of Chinese verbs that were related with different body regions was different from the acquisition pattern of English verbs (see Maouene et al., 2008). This suggests that different body areas might be emphasized in early verb learning in English and Chinese, hence cultural differences should be noted in verb learning.

Key words: Chinese verbs, body region, AoA, imageability