LINGUIST List 14.1901

Wed Jul 9 2003

Diss: Lang Acquisition: Asplin: 'Can complement...'

Editor for this issue: Naomi Fox <>


  1. kna4, Can complement frames help children...

Message 1: Can complement frames help children...

Date: Tue, 08 Jul 2003 14:05:44 +0000
From: kna4 <>
Subject: Can complement frames help children...

Institution: University of Massachusetts at Amherst
Program: Department of Psychology
Dissertation Status: Completed
Degree Date: 2002

Author: Kristen Nicole Asplin 

Dissertation Title: Can complement frames help children learning the
meaning of abstract verbs?

Linguistic Field: Language Acquisition 

Subject Language: English (code: ENG )

Dissertation Director 1: Jill de Villiers
Dissertation Director 2: Nancy Myers
Dissertation Director 3: Tom Roeper
Dissertation Director 4: Laura Wagner

Dissertation Abstract: 

Theories of language learning postulate a relatively simple, innate
link between verb meaning and sentence structure. Syntactic
bootstrapping predicts the use of known structure to help discover a
novel word's meaning. Sentences containing tensed complements were
postulated to be especially useful, since their relationship with
belief, communication and perception meanings is strong. The current
goal was to test this relationship in a verb learning paradigm.

In Experiment 1, three- to five-year-old children received a battery
of tasks to assess their command of different complement structures
and their ability to use them to fast map novel verbs from limited
exposure in story contexts. In the fast mapping task, ambiguous story
contexts introduced a novel verb with either an tensed or an
infinitival complement, e.g. 2) Who daxed that the raccoon ate the
corn? 3) Who daxed the raccoon to eat the corn? Five-year-old
children succeeded at using the infinitival complement to narrow the
meaning of the novel verb. In the case of the tensed complement,
Five-year-old children do poorly, although this construction typically
comes in a year earlier. For these children, complement structure does
not directly predict verb meaning. In fact, the contrast between
belief and desire complements is not carried by the structure
alone. Unlike English, German desire verbs can also take tensed
complements. A combination of understanding of sequence of tense in
the complement verb, and the relationship between specific mental
verbs and their complement verbs has not yet been acquired by five
year old children. In Experiment 2, only one story was used in the
Fast Mapping task, unlike the three in Experiment 1, to see if the
number of presentations affected children's learning of novel verbs in
the tensed complement condition. However, the results were

The pattern of results from all tasks suggests that the syntactic
structure of complementation is not a straightforward predictor of
verb meaning. Children do indeed use syntactic information from
sentential complements when learning new, abstract verbs. However, the
subtleties of the complements must be learned, as well as the
relationship between these structures and the verbs that appear in
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