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The link between lexical semantic features and children’s comprehension of English verbal be-passives


Children seem to be relatively delayed in their comprehension of the verbal be-passive in English, compared to their acquisition of other constructions of object-movement such as wh-questions and unaccusatives. Prior work has found that children’s performance on these passives can be affected by the verb’s lexical semantics. Through a meta-analysis of experimental studies assessing English-speaking children’s age of acquisition for the verbal be- passive, we identify a developmental trajectory composed of five classes, where each class has a distinct lexical semantic profile. A Truth-Value Judgment (TVJ) Task assessing English-speaking children’s comprehension of verbal be-passives supports this developmental trajectory. Together, the meta-analysis and TVJ study underscore the importance of lexical semantics for understanding the development of the English verbal be-passive.

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