Current Projects

ISF Research Grant 285/13 to Dorit Ravid 2013-2017

Input-output patterns in the acquisition of Hebrew root usage:

A corpus-based psycholinguistic study

Most researchers consider the Semitic root to be Hebrew’s main lexical prime, relating root-based morphological families in the three content-word classes. Psycholinguistic research testifies to the central role of the root in Hebrew acquisition and processing, from children’s early ability to extract roots from familiar words to the critical significance of roots in spelling and reading Hebrew words in literate adults. Understanding how what roots are and how they are learned is gaining insight into vocabulary learning in Hebrew. Nonetheless, there is no sufficient information regarding the actual amount, types and distributions of roots in Hebrew, rendering our understanding of how roots are learned partial and incomplete. We have no idea how many roots there are in Hebrew, how many of them are regular and how many are irregular, what are the actual distributions of roots (types and tokens) in speech and writing, and how these numbers change across acquisition. Even worse, we do not exactly know what a “root” is – a consonantal skeleton as in אמר – האמיר? A meaningful morpheme as in חשב – החשיב – חישב – התחשב? Something in between as in מכר – התמכר? Answers to these questions are critical at they determine how many roots there are in different communicative contexts and how roots are learned.

These are huge questions requiring the analysis of large databases with different content word classes. Our current project focuses on verbs (as the most typical habitat for roots) input to children and in children’s linguistic output (as the core lexicon of Hebrew). During the academic year that is now drawing to completion we have focused on analyses of verb roots in three new corpora of linguistic input to children: Child directed speech in two mothers of toddlers aged 1;10-2;3, 100 storybooks targeting preschoolers aged 1-6 years, and 40 schooltexts for 2nd graders. We are looking for empirical evidence regarding type and token frequencies of input verbs, the distributions of regular and irregular structural root classes, affixation patterns across binyamin and semantic relations between verbs sharing the same root. The revealed structure of the early root category questions established views of root-based morphological families, offering a novel model of root learning in Hebrew. Read the following publications to learn about results and their interpretations

Ashkenazi, O., Ravid, D., & Gillis, S. (2016). Breaking into the Hebrew verb system: a learning problem. First Language, 36, 505 –524.

Levie, R., Dattner, E., Zwilling, R., Rosenstein, H., Eitan Stanzas, S., & Ravid, D. (2019). Complexity and density of Hebrew verbs in preschool peer talk: The effect of SES background. The Mental Lexicon, 14(2), 235-271.

Ashkenazi, O., Gillis, S., & Ravid, D. (2020). input-output relations in the early acquisition of Hebrew verbs. Journal of Child Language, 47, 509-532.


ISF Research Grant 219/17 to Dorit Ravid 2017-2021

Derivational word families in Hebrew: A usage-based, cross-population developmental study

A main challenge for language users is forging reliable relationships between words with shared components so that morphology as a system emerges from usage. For native Hebrew acquisition this means that learners acquire verbs as lexical entities, which then form into a system based on Semitic roots and binyan conjugations. The Hebrew verb system is consequently organized by derivational families, where verbs in different binyan conjugations share the same root. This is illustrated by the k-t-b-based family containing katav ‘write’, nixtav ‘be written’, hixtiv ‘dictate’, huxtav ‘be dictated’, kitev ‘carbon copy [cc]’, kutav ‘be cc’ed’, and hitkatev ‘correspond’. The study is grounded in the Semitic Hebrew typology, whose prototypical expression is morphology, and specifically, the Hebrew verb system. Hebrew verb derivational families (DFs) have a major organizational role in the verb lexicon. They are based on a single root skeleton and a general shared meaning, with each verb having a different binyan pattern assigning it transitivity and Aktionsart values. This study offers a systematic account of how Hebrew verb families and their components—verb lemmas, roots and binyan patterns—emerge and develop in structural and semantic terms, covering the long route from infancy to adulthood.

Read the following publications to learn about results and interpretations:

Levie, R., Ashkenazi, O., Eitan Stanzas, S., Zwilling, R., Raz, E., Hershkovitz, L., & Ravid, D. (2020). The route to the derivational verb family in Hebrew: A psycholinguistic study of acquisition and development. Morphology, 30(1), 1-60.

Dattner, E., Levie, R., & Ravid, D., and Ashkenazi, O. (2021). Patterns of adaptation in child-directed and child speech in the emergence of Hebrew verbs. Frontiers in Psychology 4266.

Dattner, E., Ashkenazi, O., Ravid, D., & Levie, R. (2023). Explaining dynamic morphological patterns in acquisition using Network Analysis. Morphology, 33(4), 511-556.


ISF Research Grant 420/22 to Dorit Ravid 2022-2026

In collaboration with Elitzur Dattner

The Transition into Hebrew Syntax: Longitudinal Analyses of Parent-Child Speech Interactions

Between their second and third year of life, typically developing children shift from single words to multiword utterances and eventually to productive, systematic syntax. This key period, designated here ‘the transition into syntax’, is characterized by exponential growth of the content and function lexicon and the emergence of grammar. The study aims to capture the transition into Hebrew syntax as an integrative process by examining in developmental and discursive perspectives the emergence and consolidation of Hebrew lexical and syntactic constructions in children’s and caregivers’ speech. The proposal adopts a Usage-Based approach to language development as grounded in human experience, general learning mechanisms, and language-specific typology. Syntactic learning is assumed to be a context-sensitive, graded process of self-organization of lexical items into complex meaning-structure systems.

The study tracks adult and child usage of Hebrew lexical and grammatical components and the evolving links between them at different points in early development, revealing the relationship between lexical and grammatical acquisition. It will produce three deliverables: (i) eight new 18-month longitudinal double parent-child corpora, exhaustively annotated for lexicon, syntax, and discourse measures; (ii) a timetable of Hebrew lexical and syntactic development between the ages of 1;6-3 years, specifying how clause structure and functions emerge and consolidate, with focus on subject-predicate order, morpho-syntactic transitivity relations, verbal vs. nominal structures, and noun-adjective relations; and (iii) two sets of statistical analyses which will together capture the ‘transition into syntax’ in Hebrew.

Learn about early results and studies associated with this grant in the following publications:

Dattner, E., Kertes, L., Zwilling, R., & Ravid, D. (2019). Usage patterns in the development of Hebrew grammatical subjects. Glossa, 4(1), 129, 1-28.

Dattner, E., & Ravid, D. (2023). The development of Hebrew zero and pronominal subject realization in the context of first and second person. Journal of Child Language, 1-27. doi:10.1017/S030500092200068X