Theories of syntactic bootstrapping propose that infants map between their representations of sentences and their representations of scenes in order to infer verb meanings (e.g. Gleitman, 1990). To determine how they do this, we need to first understand how infants represent the sentences they hear and the events they see in the world.
In this talk, I will discuss work in collaboration with Tyler Knowlton, Angela Xiaoxue He, Alexander Williams, and Jeffrey Lidz that aims to diagnose the structure of 10-month-olds’ nonlinguistic event representations. Then, I will introduce a new study in progress that investigates how older infants (19-22-month-olds) relate these event representations to the sentences they hear. Specifically, we ask whether infants draw inferences about verb meanings from the number of arguments in their sentence representations, or from the thematic content of those arguments. This question has implications for how richly infants represent the structure of sentences early in development.