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Journal Article

Early sensitivity to language-specific spatial categories in English and Korean


Bowerman,  Melissa
Language Acquisition Group, MPI for Psycholinguistics, Max Planck Society;

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Choi, S., McDonough, L., Bowerman, M., & Mandler, J. M. (1999). Early sensitivity to language-specific spatial categories in English and Korean. Cognitive Development, 14, 241-268. doi:10.1016/S0885-2014(99)00004-0.

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This study investigates young children’s comprehension of spatial terms in two languages that categorize space strikingly differently. English makes a distinction between actions resulting in containment (put in) versus support or surface attachment (put on), while Korean makes a cross-cutting distinction between tight-fit relations (kkita) versus loose-fit or other contact relations (various verbs). In particular, the Korean verb kkita refers to actions resulting in a tight-fit relation regardless of containment or support. In a preferential looking study we assessed the comprehension of in by 20 English learners and kkita by 10 Korean learners, all between 18 and 23 months. The children viewed pairs of scenes while listening to sentences with and without the target word. The target word led children to gaze at different and language-appropriate aspects of the scenes. We conclude that children are sensitive to language-specific spatial categories by 18–23 months.