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LINGUIST List 18.1791

Wed Jun 13 2007

Diss: Psycholing: Arunachalam: 'Early Verb Representations'

Editor for this issue: Hunter Lockwood <hunterlinguistlist.org>

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        1.    Sudha Arunachalam, Early Verb Representations

Message 1: Early Verb Representations
Date: 12-Jun-2007
From: Sudha Arunachalam <sarunachbabel.ling.upenn.edu>
Subject: Early Verb Representations

Institution: University of Pennsylvania
Program: Department of Linguistics
Dissertation Status: Completed
Degree Date: 2007

Author: Sudha Arunachalam

Dissertation Title: Early Verb Representations

Linguistic Field(s): Psycholinguistics

Dissertation Director:
David Embick
Lila Gleitman
John C. Trueswell

Dissertation Abstract:

This dissertation investigates the lexico-syntactic representations that
children form when learning new verbs. Three questions are addressed: 1)
how do children integrate multiple sources of evidence from the environment
when determining the meanings and syntactic properties of novel verbs? 2)
are representations formed in such a way that they can be immediately
deployed by the online sentence comprehension system? and 3) can the way in
which children learn verbs inform theoretical approaches to argument

Young children exploit several cues from the environment to help them learn
verbs, and they do so rapidly, immediately mapping new words onto event
categories. I present three experiments demonstrating that 3-5 year-old
children use both the sentence a novel verb is presented in and the
properties of the event highlighted by a preceding event to form a new verb
representation. Children were presented with locative events, compounds of
a pour-type and a fill-type event, and were tested to see whether they had
isolated the manner or result as encoded by the novel verb. When the
linguistic and event cues converged on the same interpretation, or when
these cues were presented in isolation, children successfully picked out
the correct component. The linguistic representations these children formed
were also immediately accessible by the online parsing system, yielding
anticipatory eye movements to the expected direct object of the verb during
listening. When the cues pointed to different interpretations, children
were at chance in choosing one, and showed no anticipatory eye movement
behavior. These results demonstrate that children construct new verb
representations by integrating multiple sources of evidence, and even one
experience with a verb can yield a robust enough representation for
immediate access to the parsing machinery.

A review of theoretical approaches to argument structure concludes that
although the verb learning literature has been quite valuable in mapping
out the evidential sources used by the learner and their developmental time
course, verb learning studies like this one do not lend substantial support
to particular theoretical claims about how argument structure is
represented in the grammar. Future work must attempt to close this gap
between the disciplines.

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