Adjective Definitions and the Influence of Word Frequency

Marinellie, Sally A.; Johnson, Cynthia J.
October 2003
Journal of Speech, Language & Hearing Research;Oct2003, Vol. 46 Issue 5, p1061
Academic Journal
The present investigation is a study of the development of adjective definitions given by participants in Grades 6 and 10 and by young adults, as well as the influence of word frequency on those definitions. A total of 150 participants (50 per age group) wrote definitions for 6 high-frequency and 6 low-frequency adjectives. Adjective definitions were analyzed for use of semantic content and also grammatical form. Findings indicated that content of adjective definitions generally followed a developmental course from concrete and functional to more abstract. Response patterns of certain categories, such as superordinate, have implications for organization of the mental lexicon and suggest that adjective definitions may be less predictable than definitions of other grammatical categories, such as noun. Although conventional syntactic form was highly used in definitions (i.e., adjectival form for a definition of an adjective), verb form was also highly used. Conventional form may be less useful to characterize adjective definitions than other grammatical classes. Findings suggest that word frequency has a robust influence on adjective definitions and that development progresses differently for high- and low-frequency words.


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