The Effect of Word Frequency on Noun and Verb Definitions: A Developmental Study Purpose Word frequency has profound effects in word recognition and production tasks. Here the influence of word frequency on definitions was investigated, and it was hypothesized that word frequency would have significant influence on responses provided for definitions of nouns and verbs. Method Students from Grades 4, 7, ... Research Article
Research Article  |   October 01, 2006
The Effect of Word Frequency on Noun and Verb Definitions: A Developmental Study
 
Author Affiliations & Notes
  • Sally A. Marinellie
    Ohio University, Athens
  • Yen-Ling Chan
    Ohio University, Athens
  • Contact author: Sally A. Marinellie, School of Hearing, Speech and Language Sciences, Ohio University, Grover Center W 240, Athens, OH 45701. E-mail: marinels@ohio.edu
Article Information
School-Based Settings / Research Issues, Methods & Evidence-Based Practice / Language / Research Articles
Research Article   |   October 01, 2006
The Effect of Word Frequency on Noun and Verb Definitions: A Developmental Study
Journal of Speech, Language, and Hearing Research, October 2006, Vol. 49, 1001-1021. doi:10.1044/1092-4388(2006/072)
History: Received March 8, 2005 , Revised August 4, 2005 , Accepted January 23, 2006
 
Journal of Speech, Language, and Hearing Research, October 2006, Vol. 49, 1001-1021. doi:10.1044/1092-4388(2006/072)
History: Received March 8, 2005; Revised August 4, 2005; Accepted January 23, 2006
Web of Science® Times Cited: 8

Purpose Word frequency has profound effects in word recognition and production tasks. Here the influence of word frequency on definitions was investigated, and it was hypothesized that word frequency would have significant influence on responses provided for definitions of nouns and verbs.

Method Students from Grades 4, 7, 10, and college wrote definitions for high- and low-frequency nouns and verbs and rated their familiarity with the stimulus words. In the noun study, definitions were coded with the semantic response categories “use/purpose,” “description,” “association/relation,” “partial explanation,” “explanation,” and “error.” “Partial explanation” and “explanation” responses were subcategorized to code for use of critical attributes of meaning and class terms. In the verb study, definitions were coded for “synonym,” “association/relation,” “class,” “partial explanation,” “explanation,” and “error.”

Results Results indicated that certain response categories (such as a class term or a critical attribute) were more characteristic in definitions of high- compared with low-frequency words, whereas responses (such as nonspecific class) were more characteristic in low- compared with high-frequency words. In addition, certain response categories increased with age (such as use of class terms and critical attributes), while errors decreased with age. Familiarity ratings served to validate the high- and low- frequency nature of the stimulus words.

Conclusions In general, word frequency had a significant impact on word definitions. Implications are discussed with respect to word familiarity, representation in the mental lexicon, acquisition of word meaning, and shared linguistic knowledge.

Acknowledgments
This investigation is part of the Definitions in Education (DEFinE) Project. The DEFinE Project is an ongoing university–school and clinic research relation that is dedicated to better understanding of (a) the development of children’s definitions and factors that influence definitional skill in the context of education and (b) the importance of stimulus words used in assessment and intervention in speech-language pathology. We thank the administrators, teachers, parents, and students in the elementary, middle, and high schools for their participation in this study. We also acknowledge Bree Speidel, Manjari Cherian, Krystal Spires, Salomi Daftary, and Gianluca Gini for their valuable assistance in this investigation.
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