The labeling problem in syntactic bootstrapping: Main clause syntax in the acquisition of propositional attitude verbs

Aaron Steven White, Valentine Hacquard, Jeffrey Lidz

In English, the distinction between belief verbs, such as think, and desire verbs, such as want, is tracked by tense found in the subordinate clauses of those verbs. This suggests that subordinate clause tense might be a useful cue for learning the meanings of these verbs via syntactic bootstrapping. However, the correlation between tense and the belief v. desire distinction is not cross-linguistically robust; yet the acquisition profile of these verbs is similar cross-linguistically. Our proposal in this chapter is that, instead of using concrete cues like subordinate clause tense, learners may utilize more abstract syntactic cues that must be tuned to the syntactic distinctions present in a particular language. We present computational modeling evidence supporting the viability of this proposal.