Foundations of the early root category

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The Semitic root is commonly assumed to be the main lexical prime in Hebrew, relating morphological families in the major word classes. Psycholinguistic evidence supports the role of the consonantal root in acquisition and processing of Hebrew, from children’s early ability to extract roots from familiar words to spelling and reading in Hebrew by adults. There is, however, little information regarding the actual distribution of roots in verbs, their canonical habitat, in the Hebrew addressed to young children. To meet this lacuna, the authors examined verbs, roots, and binyan patterns in two types of linguistic input to children: (1) spoken – child-directed speech to toddlers aged 1;8–2;2 and (2) written – preschoolers’ storybooks and 1st-2nd grade texts. Input verbs were analyzed for type and token frequencies, distributions of full and defective roots, morphological verb families, and semantic relations between verbs sharing the same root. The picture that emerges challenges established views of root-based morphological families, providing the basis for a novel model of early verb and root learning in Hebrew.


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