The role of incremental parsing in syntactically conditioned word learning

Jeffrey Lidz, Aaron Steven White, Rebecca Baier

In a series of three experiments, we use children’s noun learning as a probe into their syntactic knowledge as well as their ability to deploy this knowledge, investigating how the predictions children make about upcoming syntactic structure change as their knowledge changes. In the first two experiments, we show that children display a developmental change in their ability to use a noun’s syntactic environment as a cue to its meaning. We argue that this pattern arises from children’s reliance on their knowledge of verbs’ subcategorization frame frequencies to guide parsing, coupled with an inability to revise incremental parsing decisions. We show that this analysis is consistent with the syntactic distributions in child-directed speech. In the third experiment, we show that the change arises from predictions based on verbs’ subcategorization frame frequencies.