In my lab, we ask how young children discover the meanings of new words (primarily verbs, but also some nouns such as event nominals) what their lexico-semantic and -syntactic representations for these words look like, and how their language processing systems retrieve these representations when they hear the words again. I am also interested in how the properties of parent talk help (or hinder) these abilities. This work uses eye-tracking methods to discover how children interpret new words as the linguistic context unfolds. I study children acquiring English as well as languages with very different linguistic properties (e.g., Turkish, Korean) to see how cross-linguistic differences affect the trajectory of acquisition, and children who are developing typically as well as children with or at risk for language or communication disorders (late talkers, children with autism spectrum disorder).

Selected Publications

Valleau, M. J., & Arunachalam, S. (2017). The effects of linguistic context on visual attention while learning novel verbs. Proceedings of the 41st annual Boston University Conference on Language Development.

He, A. X., & Arunachalam, S. (In press). Word learning mechanisms. WIREs Cognitive Science.

Arunachalam, S. (2016). A new experimental paradigm to study children’s processing of their parent’s unscripted language input. Journal of Memory and Language, 88, 104-116.

Corriveau, K., Kurkul, K., & Arunachalam, S. (In press). Preschoolers’ preference for syntactic complexity varies by socioeconomic status. Child Development. Advance online publication. doi: 10.1111/cdev.12553

Arunachalam, S., Syrett, K., & Chen, Y. (2016). Lexical disambiguation in verb learning: Evidence from the conjoined-subject intransitive frame in English and Mandarin Chinese. Frontiers in Psychology: Language Sciences, 7, 138.

Arunachalam, S. (2016). Preschoolers’ acquisition of novel verbs in the double object dative. Cognitive Science. Advance online publication. doi: 10.1111/cogs.12368

Arunachalam, S., & Luyster, R. (2015). The integrity of lexical acquisition mechanisms in autism spectrum disorders:  A research review. Autism Research, 9, 810-828.

Syrett, K., & Arunachalam, S. (In press). Young children’s developing expectations about the language of events. In: J. A. Scott & D. Waughtal (Eds.), Proceedings of the 40th Annual Boston University Conference on Language Development.

Kon, M., Göksun, T., Bağci, A., & Arunachalam, S. (In press). Verb acquisition in English and Turkish: The role of processing. In: J. A. Scott & D. Waughtal (Eds.), Online Proceedings Supplement, 40th Annual Boston University Conference on Language Development.

Chita-Tegmark, M., Arunachalam, S., Nelson, C. A., & Tager-Flusberg, H. (2015). Eye-tracking measurements of language processing: Developmental differences in children at high risk for ASD. Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders, 45(10), 3327-3338.

Arunachalam, S. (2015). Argument structure: Relationships between theory and acquisition. In Cognitive Science Perspectives on Verb Representation and Processing (pp. 259-280). Springer International Publishing.

Arunachalam, S., & Waxman, S. R. (2015). Let’s see a boy and a balloon. Argument labels and syntactic frame in verb learning. Language Acquisition: A Journal of Developmental Linguistics, 22, 117-131.

Arunachalam, S. (2015). How do children parse naturalistic input? A new methodology. In: E. Grillo, K. Jepson, & M. LaMendola (Eds.), Online Proceedings Supplement, 39th Annual Boston University Conference on Language Development.

Arunachalam, S., & Syrett, K. (2014). Specifying event reference in verb learning. In: W. Orman & M. J. Valleau (Eds.), Proceedings of the 38th Annual Boston University Conference on Language Development. (pp. 39-50)

Syrett, K., Arunachalam, S., & Waxman, S. R. (2014). Slowly but surely: Adverbs support verb learning in 2-year-olds. Language Learning and Development, 10, 263-278.

Arunachalam, S. (2013). Two-year-olds can begin to acquire verb meanings in socially impoverished contexts. Cognition, 129, 569-573.

Arunachalam, S. (2013). Experimental methods for linguists. Language and Linguistics Compass, 7, 221-232.

Arunachalam, S., & Sheline, L. (2013). Verb learning in non-social contexts. In: S. Baiz, N. Goldman, & R. Hawkes (Eds.), BUCLD 37 Online Proceedings Supplement. Retrieved from

Choi, Y., & Arunachalam, S. (2013). Learning manner and path verbs from the Serial Verb Construction in Korean. In: S. Baiz, N. Goldman, & R. Hawkes (Eds.), Proceedings of the 37th Annual Boston University Conference on Language Development, 62-73.

Arunachalam, S., Leddon, E. M., Song, H., Lee, Y., & Waxman, S. R. (2013). Doing more with less: Verb learning in Korean-acquiring 24-month-olds. Language Acquisition, 20, 292-304.

Waxman, S. R., Fu, X., Arunachalam, S., Leddon, E., Geraghty, K., & Song, H. (2013). Are nouns learned before verbs? Infants provide insight into a long-standing debate. Child Development Perspectives, 7, 155-159.

Arunachalam, S., Escovar, E., Hansen, M. A., & Waxman, S. R. (2013). Out of sight but not out of mind: 21-month-olds use syntactic information to learn verbs even in the absence of a corresponding event. Language and Cognitive Processes, 28, 417-425.

Arunachalam, S., Syrett, K., & Waxman, S. R. (2012). Can adverbs call attention to manner of motion for 2-year-olds learning verbs? In: A. K. Biller, E. Y. Chung, & A. E. Kimball (Eds.), Proceedings of the 36th Annual Boston University Conference on Language Development.

Arunachalam, S., & Kothari, A. (2011). An experimental study of Hindi and English perfective interpretation. Journal of South Asian Linguistics, 4, 27-42.

Arunachalam, S., & Waxman, S. R. (2011). Grammatical form and semantic context in verb learning. Language Learning and Development, 7, 169-184.

Leddon, E., Arunachalam, S., Gong, H., Wang, L., & Fu, X. (2011). Noun and verb learning in Mandarin-acquiring 24-month-olds. In: Online Proceedings Supplement, 35th Annual Boston University Conference on Language Development.

Arunachalam, S., & Waxman, S. R. (2010). Meaning from syntax: Evidence from 2-year-olds. Cognition, 114, 442–446.

Arunachalam, S., & Waxman, S. R. (2010). Language and conceptual development. Wiley Interdisciplinary Reviews: Cognitive Science, 1, 548-558.

Arunachalam, S., & Waxman, S. R. (2010). Specifying the role of linguistic information in verb learning. In: K. Franich, K. Iserman, & L. Keil (Eds.), Proceedings of the 34th Annual Boston University Conference on Language Development, 11-21.

Arunachalam, S., & Kothari, A. (2010). Telicity and event culmination in Hindi perfectives. In: P. M. Bertinetto, A. Korhonen, A. Lenci, A. Melinger, S. Schulte im Walde, & A. Villavicencio (Eds.), Proceedings of Verb 2010, Interdisciplinary Workshop on Verbs: The Identification and Representation of Verb Features, 16-19.

Almor, A., Arunachalam, S., & Strickland, B. (2007). When the creampuff beat the boxer: Working memory, cost, and function in reading metaphoric reference. Metaphor and Symbol, 22, 169–193.

Almor, A., Aronoff, J., MacDonald, M., Gonnerman, L., Kempler, D., Hintiryan,  H., Hayes, U., Arunachalam, S., & Andersen, E. S. (2009). A common mechanism in verb and noun naming deficits in Alzheimer’s patients. Brain and Language, 111, 8–19.

Aronoff, J., Gonnerman, L., Almor, A., Arunachalam, S., Kempler, D., & Andersen, E. (2005). Information content versus relational knowledge: Semantic deficits in patients with Alzheimer’s disease. Neuropsychologia, 44, 2135.

Arunachalam, S. (2005). Zero pronouns in Tamil and Malayalam. Presented at the 25th South Asian Languages Analysis Roundtable, Urbana, IL.

Arunachalam, S. (2005). Narrative coherence in Bloomfield’s Menominee texts. Unpublished ms., University of Pennsylvania.

Arunachalam, S., Gould, D., Andersen, E., Byrd, D., & Naryanan, S. (2001). Politeness and frustration language in child-machine interactions. Proceedings of Eurospeech, pp. 2675-2678.