Children's attitude problems: Bootstrapping verb meaning from syntax and pragmatics

Valentine Hacquard, Jeffrey Lidz

How do children learn the meanings of propositional attitude verbs? We argue that children use information contained in both syntactic distribution and pragmatic function to zero in on the appropriate meanings. Specifically, we identify a potentially universal link between semantic subclasses of attitude verbs, their syntactic distribution and the kinds of indirect speech acts they can be used to perform. As a result, children can use the syntax as evidence about the meaning, which in turn constrains the kinds of pragmatic enrichments they do and do not make in understanding these verbs in conversation.