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Words that describe sensory perception give insight into how language mediates human experience, and the acquisition of these words is one way to examine how we learn to categorize and communicate sensation. We examine the differential predictions of the typological prevalence hypothesis and embodiment hypothesis regarding the acquisition of perception verbs. Studies 1 and 2 examine the acquisition trajectories of perception verbs across 12 languages using parent questionnaire responses, while Study 3 examines their relative frequencies in English corpus data. We find the vision verbs see and look are acquired first, consistent with the typological prevalence hypothesis. However, for children at 12-23 months, touch-not audition-verbs take precedence in terms of their age of acquisition, frequency in child-produced speech, and frequency in child-directed speech, consistent with the embodiment hypothesis. Later at 24-35 months old, frequency rates are observably different and audition begins to align with what has previously been reported in adult English data. It seems the initial orientation to verbalizing touch over audition in child-caregiver interaction is especially related to the control of physically and socially appropriate behaviors. Taken together, the results indicate children's acquisition of perception verbs arises from the complex interplay of embodiment, language-specific input, and child-directed socialization routines.

Original publication




Journal article


Cogn Sci

Publication Date





Embodiment, Language acquisition, Perception verbs, Sensory dominance, Sensory language, Humans, Language Development, Infant, Female, Male, Language, Child, Preschool, Visual Perception, Speech, Touch, Auditory Perception