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LINGUIST List 17.2507

Thu Sep 07 2006

Diss: Lang Acquisition/Semantics/Syntax: Bunger: 'How We Learn to T...'

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        1.    Ann Bunger, How We Learn to Talk About Events: Linguistic and conceptual constraints on verb learning

Message 1: How We Learn to Talk About Events: Linguistic and conceptual constraints on verb learning
Date: 07-Sep-2006
From: Ann Bunger <annbungergmail.com>
Subject: How We Learn to Talk About Events: Linguistic and conceptual constraints on verb learning

Institution: Northwestern University
Program: Department of Linguistics
Dissertation Status: Completed
Degree Date: 2006

Author: Ann Bunger

Dissertation Title: How We Learn to Talk About Events: Linguistic and conceptual constraints on verb learning

Linguistic Field(s): Language Acquisition

Subject Language(s): English (eng)

Dissertation Director:
Chris Kennedy
Jeffrey L. Lidz
Sandra R. Waxman

Dissertation Abstract:

This dissertation investigates the mapping between linguistic and
conceptual event representations and the implications of this mapping for
the acquisition of verbs labeling causative events. From infancy, we
represent causative events as being composed of a set of subevents
associated in a hierarchical structure that reflects their partonomic and
taxonomic relationships to one another. Our linguistic representations of
events are intimately tied to our conceptual representations, and languages
reflect this complex internal structure in the grammar of the causative
construction. The studies reported here offer a clearer picture of the
range of meanings that language learners are willing to encode in single
verbs associated with causative events and how the hypotheses they
postulate about the meanings of novel verbs are constrained by conceptual
and linguistic factors.

I present results from four preferential looking studies investigating the
limits that 2-year-old children and adults place on their hypotheses about
the meanings of novel verbs associated with causative events. Experiments
1&2 demonstrate that 2-year-old children have access to the same complex
representations for causative events that adults do and that both groups
can use verb-specific subcategorization information to identify and label
the subparts of these events. Specifically, both groups mapped novel verbs
in unaccusative intransitive syntactic frames onto the result of a
causative event and novel verbs in unergative intransitive frames onto the
agent's activity. For novel verbs presented in transitive frames,
2-year-olds demonstrated a bias to interpret them as labels for a causative
event, whereas adults tended to map them onto the agent's activity.
Experiments 3&4 reveal that as long as structural constraints on the
mapping between verb syntax and semantics are satisfied, 2-year-olds can be
flexible in the specificity of the semantic content they assign to their
representation of a causative.

Taken together, these results provide support to the argument that
children's early verb representations are abstract in nature. They suggest,
moreover, that adults and 2-year-olds face word-learning situations with
different resources and that they bring different strategies to the task of
learning new words that stem from differences in their experience with the
target language and the world.

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