NSF dissertation support for Juliana Gerard

Congratulations to Juliana Gerard, who has won an NSF Dissertation Research Improvement Grant for "Similarity-based interference and the acquisition of adjunct control." These grants provide funds for items not normally available through the student's university, especially for data-gathering and field research. Here is the abstract of Julie's successful proposal:

  • "By age 4, children's language abilities are already quite sophisticated; however, there are still many ways in which they seem to differ linguistically from adults. There is not always a consensus regarding the source of children’s behavior, and even less clear are the mechanisms involved in the transition from non-adultlike to adultlike behavior. The proposed research investigates the acquisition of adjunct control as a case study in accounting for children’s errors in terms of sentence processing mechanisms. In sentences with adjunct control, there is a syntactic control dependency between the main clause subject and the null subject of a non-finite adjunct, as in "John bumped Mary after tripping on the sidewalk." In these types of sentences adults only allow a subject control interpretation, but all previous studies on the acquisition of adjunct control have reported that children allow a wider range of interpretations than adults. While many factors may contribute to children’s non-adultlike behavior in a linguistic task, all of these studies assumed that children’s behavior was due to non-adultlike linguistic knowledge rather than considering extra-grammatical factors. Based on models from adult psycholinguistics, the proposed research outlines four experiments to test the hypothesis that children’s errors for sentences with adjunct control are due to similarity-based interference. Unlike the previous accounts, this approach allows for a more continuous developmental trajectory. Furthermore, effects of similarity-based interference have been observed for a number of constructions in children and adults, but there has been little investigation into why the effects observed for children are greater than the effects observed for adults. Considering an extra-grammatical explanation for children’s non-adultlike behavior therefore presents the possibility to investigate the mechanisms responsible for this difference in future research."