I'm somehow into this question. My speculation is:

An English-speaking child would first learn the word "learn" before kindergarten. He would probably learn it from his parents or playmates when they try to teach him a trick or game or life skill. Once he shows mastery in that trick/game/skill, the parent/playmate would say: "Now you learned it!" Then he got to know the past tense form "learned" implies success in learning.

Then he goes to elementary school. At the end of the first class in school, the teacher may say: "Today we studied [a subject matter]. Did you all learn it, children?" At this time, the child began to know that "studied" doesn't necessarily mean "learned" (otherwise the teacher wouldn't ask if the children all learned it) -- "studied" lacks a "success" component.

Do you agree with the above speculation?


This is fascinating question about learning word semantics. Word meanings, the connection between the utterance and the mental concept, are related in many ways. A lot of this learning comes from the pragmatic side. One of these is methods is learning from negative evidence (you didn't say this other word but instead this word, so you maybe mean something different).

Nothing is definite or immediate; little things happen one by one and need reinforcement. Even if it seems as though an immediate inference is made, that's is probably after the accumulation of many small instances and the last one clinches it.

So your explanation does seem reasonable.

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