Development of adjective frequencies across semantic classes: A growth curve analysis of child speech and child-directed speech

Elena Tribushinina, Huub Van Den Bergh, Dorit Ravid, Ayhan Aksu-Koç, Marianne Kilani-Schoch, Katharina Korecky-Kröll, Iris Leibovitch-Cohen, Sabine Laaha, Bracha Nir, Wolfgang Dressler, Steven Gillis

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


This paper is a longitudinal investigation of adjective use by children aged 1;8-2;8, speaking Dutch, German, French, Hebrew, and Turkish, and by their caregivers. Each adjective token in transcripts of spontaneous speech was coded for semantic class. The development of adjective use in each semantic class was analysed by means of a multilevel logistic regression. The results show that toddlers and their parents use adjectives more often as the child grows older. However, this holds only for semantic classes denoting concrete concepts, such as physical properties, colour, and size. Adjectives denoting more abstract properties are barely used by children and parents throughout the first year of adjective acquisition. The correlations between adjective frequencies in child speech and child-directed speech are very strong at the beginning, but decrease with time as the child develops independent adjective use. The composition of early adjective lexicons is very similar in the five languages under study.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)185-226
Number of pages42
JournalLIA Language, Interaction and Acquisition
Issue number2
StatePublished - 2014

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
We are grateful to the anonymous reviewers for their constructive comments. This research has been partly supported by the Netherlands Organization for Scientific Research (NWO), grant 275-70-029, to the first author. The Austrian part of the study has been partly supported by the Austrian Science Fund project P17276 and by the Austrian Academy of Sciences. Mine’s data comes from research supported by a grant to A. Aksu-Koç, from the Boğaziçi University Research Fund, Project No: 96S0017. Many thanks to the parents of the French-speaking children, Emma and Sophie, for their collaboration in collecting the data and checking the transcriptions, and to Aris Xanthos for his contribution to the coding and formatting of the French transcripts. We thank Laura E. Lettner and Lara Spendier for the transcription, checking and coding of Lena’s data. We are grateful to Orly Herzberg for letting us use data for the two Hebrew speaking participants Gil and Omer. We also thank Aylin Küntay for making Irem’s corpus available for analysis.

Publisher Copyright:
© John Benjamins Publishing Company.


  • Adjective frequencies
  • Audience design
  • Cross-linguistic
  • Order of emergence
  • Semantic classes

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Language and Linguistics
  • Communication
  • Linguistics and Language


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