Learning Verb Syntax via Listening: New Evidence From 22-Month-Olds

Messenger, Katherine and Yuan, Sylvia and Fisher, Cynthia (2014) Learning Verb Syntax via Listening: New Evidence From 22-Month-Olds. Language Learning and Development, 11 (4). pp. 356-368. ISSN 1547-5441

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Children recruit verb syntax to guide verb interpretation. We asked whether 22-month-olds spontaneously encode information about a particular novel verb’s syntactic properties through listening to sentences, retain this information in long-term memory over a filled delay, and retrieve it to guide interpretation upon hearing the same novel verb again. Children watched dialogues in which interlocutors discussed unseen events using a novel verb in transitive (e.g., “Anna blicked the baby”) or intransitive sentences (“Anna blicked”). Children later heard the verb in isolation (“Find blicking!”) while viewing a two-participant causal action and a one-participant action event. Children who had heard transitive dialogues looked longer at the two-participant event than did those who heard intransitive dialogues. This effect disappeared if children heard a different novel verb at test (“Find kradding!”). These findings implicate a role for distributional learning in early verb learning: syntactic-combinatorial information about otherwise unknown words may pervade the toddler’s lexicon, guiding later word interpretation.

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Journal Article
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Language Learning and Development
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03 Feb 2023 15:50
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04 Feb 2023 03:20