June 15th: Laurel Perkins

How to grow a grammar: Syntactic development in infancy

Laurel Perkins, University of California Los Angeles

Tuesday, June 15 2021, 16:00-17:00 BST
Zoom Details: [Please Request]

What we can learn depends on what we already know; a child who can’t count cannot learn arithmetic, and a child who can’t segment words cannot identify properties of verbs in her language. Language acquisition, like learning in general, is incremental. How do children converge on a grammar for their language using incomplete and noisy representations of their linguistic input?

In this talk, I’ll be looking at these questions through the lens of infants’ wh-dependency acquisition. I’ll present a collection of studies that use behavioral methods to investigate infants’ representations of wh-questions, and computational methods to investigate how those representations are acquired. These studies show: (1) that infants in their second year of life represent moved arguments in wh-questions; (2) that their representations of these questions develop, with local argument relations represented before argument movement; and (3) that learners might identify movement dependencies in their language by combining prior syntactic knowledge with smart statistical learning mechanisms. This case study shows how a multifaceted approach, drawing from formal linguistics, developmental psycholinguistics, and computational cognitive modelling, can inform our theories of grammar acquisition in development.