Project on Children's Language Learning: Research Questions

Research Topics

Argument Structure and Word Learning

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Learning words requires creating a link between sounds and concepts on the basis of limited experience. What information do learners use to determine the meanings of novel words? Our lab has been pursuing the hypothesis that the syntactic distribution of a word is informative about its meaning and that children from the very beginning of word learning are able to use syntax as a cue to meaning. We have been exploring this hypothesis in learners ranging from 14 months to 5 years of age. To the extent that learners use syntax as a cue to word meaning, it follows that they have learned something about the syntax of their native language. We have been exploring the fidelity of children’s syntactic representations and examining the role of on-line parsing mechanisms in syntax-guided word learning. We have also been exploring young infants’ event representations so that we can better understand the conceptual structures that serve as the hypothesis space over which verb meanings are constructed.

  • White, A.S., V. Hacquard and J. Lidz (submitted) “Projecting Attitudes.”

  • Lidz, J., White, A.S., and Baier, R. (submitted). "The role of incremental parsing in syntactically conditioned word learning."

  • Wellwood, A., A. Gagliardi and J. Lidz. (in press) “Syntactic and Lexical Inference in the Acquisition of Novel Superlatives."

  • Gagliardi, A., E. Bennett, J. Lidz & N. Feldman. (2012) “Children's Inferences in Generalizing Novel Nouns and Adjectives,” Proceedings of the 2012 meeting of the Cognitive Science Society.

  • Wellwood, A., D. Odic, J. Halberda & J. Lidz. (2012) “Choosing quantity over quality: Syntax guides interpretive preferences for novel superlatives,” Proceedings of the 2012 meeting of the Cognitive Science Society.

  • Trueswell, J., D. Kaufman, A. Hafri and J. Lidz. (2012) “Development of Parsing Abilities Interacts with Grammar Learning: Evidence from Tagalog and Kannada” Proceedings of the 36th Boston University Conference on Language Development. Cascadilla Press: Cambridge.

  • Syrett, K. and J. Lidz. (2010) “30-month-olds use the distribution and meaning of adverbs to interpret novel adjectives.” Language Learning and Development 6, 258-282.

  • Syrett, K., C. Kennedy and J. Lidz. (2009) “Meaning and Context in Children’s Understanding of Gradable Adjectives,” Journal of Semantics, 27:1-35.

  • Waxman, S.R., J. Lidz, I. Braun and T. Lavin. (2009) “24-Month-Old Infants' Interpretations of Novel Verbs and Nouns in Dynamic Scenes.” Cognitive Psychology, 59:67-95.

  • Christophe, A., S. Millotte, S. Bernal and J. Lidz. (2008) “Bootstrapping Lexical and Syntactic Acquisition,” Language and Speech 51:61-75.

  • Bernal, S., J. Lidz, S. Millotte and A. Christophe. (2007) “Syntax constrains the acquisition of verb meaning,” Language Learning and Development 3:325-341.

  • Waxman, S.R. and J. Lidz. (2006) “Early Word Learning,” in D. Kuhn & R. Siegler (eds). Handbook of Child Psychology: Cognition, Perception and Language (6th Edition), 299-335. John Wiley & Sons: NY.

  • Lidz, J. (2006) “Verb learning as a probe into children’s grammars,” in K. Hirsh-Pasek and R. Golinkoff (eds.) Action Meets Words. Oxford University Press: Oxford.

  • Bunger, A. and J. Lidz. (2006) “Constrained flexibility in the extension of novel causative verbs,” Proceedings of the 32nd Annual Meeting of the Berkeley Linguistics Society. BLS: Berkeley.

  • Bunger, A. and J. Lidz. (2006) “Constrained flexibility in the acquisition of causative verbs,” Proceedings of the 30th Boston University Conference on Language Development. Cascadilla Press: Cambridge.

  • Syrett, K., C. Kennedy, E. Bradley, and J. Lidz. (2005) “Shifting Standards: Children’s Understanding of Gradable Adjectives,” In K. Ud Deen, J. Nomura, B. Schulz and B. D. Schwartz (eds.) Proceedings of the Inaugural GALANA. MITWPL: Cambridge.

  • Lidz, J., H. Gleitman and L. Gleitman. (2004) “Kidz in the ‘Hood: Syntactic Bootstrapping and the Mental Lexicon,” in Hall, D.G. and S.R. Waxman (eds.) Weaving a Lexicon, 603-636. MIT Press: Cambridge.

  • Lidz, J. and L. Gleitman. (2004) “Yes, we still need Universal Grammar,” Cognition 94:85-93.

  • Lidz, J. and L. Gleitman. (2004) “Argument Structure and the Child’s Contribution to Language Learning,” Trends in Cognitive Science 8(4):157-161.

  • Bunger, A. and J. Lidz. (2004) “Syntactic Bootstrapping and the Internal Structure of Causative Events,” Proceedings of 28th Boston University Conference on Language Development, 74-85. Cascadilla Press: Cambridge.

  • Lidz, J., H. Gleitman and L. Gleitman. (2003) “Understanding How Input Matters: The Footprint of Universal Grammar on Verb Learning,” Cognition 87:151-178.

  • Lidz, J. (1998) “Constraints on the Syntactic Bootstrapping Procedure for Verb Learning,” Proceedings of 22nd Boston University Conference on Language Development, 488-498. Cascadilla Press: Cambridge.

Attitudes

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Our group is interested in how children acquire attitude verbs like think, want, andhope. We know from previous research that children begin to produce and understand these verbs relatively late, around 2.5-4 years of age. This delay is not surprising, given that attitude verbs refer to unobservable mental states, and given that children have non-linguistic difficulty reasoning about mental states. However, previous research suggests that children tend to acquire some attitude verbs earlier than others, in an order that is relatively consistent cross-linguistically. Wantis learned earliest, followed by communication verbs like say and tell. Belief verbs like think are not adult-like until 4-5 years of age, and more sophisticated verbs like hope come even later. These asymmetries in the developmental timecourse of different attitude verbs are the starting point of our project. What can these asymmetries tell us about the semantics of different verbs, and the tools that children bring to bear on the acquisition problem? We have been using experimental and computational methods to investigate several related questions: What do children know about different attitude verbs at different ages? How does conceptual and pragmatic knowledge interact with children’s grammatical knowledge in their use of attitude verbs? What information is in principle available in the language that children hear that could help them learn the meanings of attitude verbs? Of the information that is available, what do children actually use?

  • Lewis, S., V. Hacquard and J. Lidz (submitted) “Think Pragmatically: Children’s Understanding of Belief Reports.”

  • Harrigan, K., V. Hacquard and J. Lidz (submitted) "Three-year-olds' understanding of desire reports is robust to conflict.”

  • White, A.S., V. Hacquard and J. Lidz (submitted) “Projecting Attitudes.”

  • Hacquard, Valentine (2014) ‘Bootstrapping attitudes’. In T. Snider (ed.) Proceedings of SALT 24, 330-352.

  • Dudley, R., N. Orita, V. Hacquard and J. Lidz. (2014) “Three-year-olds’ understanding of know and think,” in F. Schwarz (ed.). Experimental Perspectives on Presupposition, 241-263. Springer.

  • Lewis, S., V. Hacquard & J. Lidz. (2012) The semantics and pragmatics of belief reports in preschoolers, Proceedings of Semantics and Linguistic Theory 22.

A-bar dependencies

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One of the fundamental features of natural language is the displacement of constituents. In a wide range of structures, including wh-questions, relative clauses and quantification, we interpret some phrases as being dependent on other phrases that are not adjacent to them. Moreover, these dependencies are restricted in the environments over which they can occur. We have been exploring the acquisition of these dependencies in children ranging from 15-months to 5-years of age. One of the key problems our work aims to address concerns the interplay between on-line sentence understanding mechanisms and the course of language development. To what degree are children’s successes with these dependencies a reflection of adult-like knowledge states, and to what degree are their failures a reflection of fragile on-line parsing mechanisms?

  • Gagliardi, A., T. Mease & J. Lidz (submitted) U-shaped learning in the early acquisition of A-bar movement.

  • Omaki, A., I.D. White, T. Goro, J. Lidz, and C. Phillips. (2014) “No fear of commitment: Children's incremental interpretations in English and Japanese wh questions,” Language Learning and Development, 10, 206-233.

  • Conroy, A. and J. Lidz. (2007) “A Production/Comprehension Asymmetry in Children’s Why-questions,” Proceedings of Generative Approaches to Language Acquisition in North America 2. Cascadilla Press: Cambridge.

  • Leddon, E. and J. Lidz (2006) “Reconstruction Effects in Child Language,” Proceedings of the 30th Boston University Conference on Language Development. Cascadilla Press: Cambridge.

Pronouns, Reference and Binding

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A central area of research in the syntax-semantics interface concerns the interpretation of pronouns and the syntactic environments over which referential dependencies can occur. We have been examining children’s acquisition of constraints on reference in order to identify the age of acquisition of these constraints and of the syntactic features responsible for them. We have been investigating constraints on reflexives, pronominals and R-expressions in children ranging from 24-months to 4 years of age. In addition, we have been examining how children use their linguistic environment in fixing the grammatical constraints particular to the language they are acquiring.

  • Sutton, M., M. Fetters & J. Lidz (submitted) "Syntactic Processing as a Diagnostic for Syntactic Knowledge: Principle C in 30-month-olds.”

  • Lukyanenko, C., A. Conroy, and J. Lidz. (2014) “Is she patting Katie? Constraints on pronominal reference in 30-month-olds,” Language Learning and Development, 10, 328-44.

  • Orita, N., McKeown, R., Feldman, N., Lidz, J., and Boyd-Graber, J. (2013) Discovering Pronoun Categories using Discourse Information. Proceedings of the 35th Annual Conference of the Cognitive Science Society.

  • Sutton, M., M. Fetters, & J. Lidz. (2012) “Parsing for Principle C at 30-months,” Proceedings of the 36th Boston University Conference on Language Development. Cascadilla Press: Cambridge.

  • Sutton, M., C. Lukyanenko & J. Lidz. (2011) “The Onset of Principle C at 30 Months: The Role of Vocabulary, Syntactic Development, and Processing Efficiency.” Proceedings of the 35th Boston University Conference on Language Development. Cascadilla Press: Cambridge.

  • Pearl, L, and J. Lidz. (2009) “When Domain General Learning Succeeds and When it Fails,” Language Learning and Development, 5:235-265.

  • Conroy, A., E. Takahashi, J. Lidz and C. Phillips. (2009) “Equal Treatment for All Antecedents: How Children Succeed with Principle B,” Linguistic Inquiry, 40: 446-486.

  • Leddon, E. and J. Lidz (2006) “Reconstruction Effects in Child Language,” Proceedings of the 30th Boston University Conference on Language Development. Cascadilla Press: Cambridge.

  • Lidz, J. and S. Waxman. (2004) “Reaffirming the Poverty of the Stimulus Argument: A reply to the replies,” Cognition 93:157-165.

  • Lidz, J., S. Waxman, and J. Freedman. (2003) “What Infants Know about Syntax but Couldn't have Learned: Experimental Evidence for Syntactic Structure at 18-months.” Cognition 89:B65-B73.

Quantification

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Languages allow us to refer to precise quantities and to make generalizations about sets of entities. What are the extralinguistic capacities that feed into the acquisition of quantificational language? In a series of studies, we have been examining the role of children’s number knowledge and other cognitive capacities in shaping their acquisition of quantificational expressions. Relatedly, when sentences contain multiple quantificational expressions, the potential for ambiguity arises. How do children’s syntactic abilities interact with their knowledge of quantification? What can their limitations reveal about the nature of early linguistic representations? To what degree can children's successes and failures help us to identify the appropriate constraints on possible meanings exhibited by natural languages.

  • Lidz, J. (in press) “Quantification and Scope in Child Language,” in J. Lidz, W. Snyder & J. Pater (eds). Oxford Handbook of Developmental Linguistics. Oxford University Press: Oxford.

  • Wellwood, A., A. Gagliardi and J. Lidz. (in press) “Syntactic and Lexical Inference in the Acquisition of Novel Superlatives.” Language Learning and Development.

  • Odic, D., Halberda, J., P. Pietroski, & J. Lidz. (submitted) “The language-number interface: evidence from the acquisition of most.”

  • Han, C.H., J. Lidz and J. Musolino. (submitted) “Grammar selection in the absence of evidence: Korean Scope and Verb-raising Revisited.”

  • Odic, D., P. Pietroski, T. Hunter, J. Lidz & J. Halberda. (2013) “Young Children’s Understanding of ‘More’ and Discrimination of Number and Surface Area.” Journal of Experimental Psychology: Learning, Memory and Cognition, 39, 451-461.

  • Hunter, T. and J. Lidz. (2012) “Conservativity and the Learnability of Determiners,” Journal of Semantics.

  • Wellwood, A., D. Odic, J. Halberda & J. Lidz. (2012) “Choosing quantity over quality: Syntax guides interpretive preferences for novel superlatives,” Proceedings of the 2012 meeting of the Cognitive Science Society.

  • Wellwood, A., D. Odic, J. Halberda, T. Hunter, P. Pietroski & J. Lidz. (2012) “Meaning more or most: evidence from 3-and-a-half year-olds.” Proceedings of the Chicago Linguistics Society Annual Meeting.

  • Viau, J. and J. Lidz. (2011) “Selective Learning in the Acquisition of Kannada Ditransitives,” Language, 87, 679-714.

  • Syrett, K. and J. Lidz. (2011) “The Locality of QR: Evidence from Children’s interpretations of Antecedent Contained Deletion.” Linguistic Inquiry, 42, 305-337.

  • Viau, J., J. Lidz and J. Musolino. (2010) “Priming of Abstract Logical Representations in 4-year-olds.” Language Acquisition, 17:26-50.

  • Syrett, K. and J. Lidz. (2009) Quantifier Raising in 4-year-olds. Language Acquisition 16:67-81.

  • Conroy, A., J. Lidz and J. Musolino. (2009) “The Fleeting Isomorphism Effect.” Language Acquisition 16:106-117.

  • Hunter, T., J. Lidz, A. Wellwood, & A. Conroy. (2009) “Restrictions on the Meaning of Determiners: Typological Generalizations and Learnability.” Proceedings of Semantics and Linguistic Theory.

  • Halberda, J., L. Taing & J. Lidz. (2008) “The age of most comprehension and its potential dependence on counting ability in preschoolers,” Language Learning and Development 4:99-121.

  • Han, C.H., J. Lidz, and J. Musolino. (2007) “Verb-movement and Grammar Competition in Korean: Evidence from Quantification and Negation,” Linguistic Inquiry 38:1-47.

  • Lidz, J. and J. Musolino. (2006) “On the Quantificational Status of Indefinites: The View from Child Language.” Language Acquisition.

  • Musolino, J and J. Lidz. (2006) “Why Children are not Universally Successful with Quantification.” Linguistics 44:817-852.

  • Syrett, K. and J. Lidz. (2005) “Children Want to Access Every Interpretation Adults do,” Proceedings of North East Linguistics Society 35. GLSA: Amherst, MA.

  • Musolino, J. and J. Lidz. (2004) "The Scope of Isomorphism: Turning Adults into Children." Language Acquisition 11:277-291.

  • Lidz, J., E. McMahon, K. Syrett, J. Viau, F. Anggoro, J. Peterson-Hicks, E. Sneed, A. Bunger, T. Flevaris, A. Graham, K. Grohne, Y. Lee, and J. Strid. (2004) “Quantifier Raising in 4-year-olds,” Proceedings of 28th Boston University Conference on Language Development, 340-349. Cascadilla Press: Cambridge.

  • Lidz, J. and J. Musolino. (2002) “Children’s Command of Quantification,” Cognition 84:113-154.

  • Musolino, J. and J. Lidz. (2002) “Preschool Logic: Truth and Felicity in the Acquisition of Quantification,” Proceedings of 26th Boston University Conference on Language Development, 406-416. Cascadilla Press: Cambridge.

Input, Learning and Universal Grammar

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Humans are unique in their ability to acquire language. This capacity likely derives in part from innate constraints on the range of possible languages. Such constraints are necessary but not sufficient to explain language acquisition. Learners must also use information in their linguistic environment to map their experience onto the appropriate representations. Our team is working toward explicit models of the innate contribution of the learner, paired with explicit models of how this contribution makes the input informative for learning a specific language. This work requires the combination of comparative formal linguistics, computational modeling and careful experimentation in the service of understanding learners' perceptual intake and how this intake, when combined with a representation of the space of possible grammars, allows for the growth of a particular grammar in the mind of the learner.

  • Lidz, J. & A. Gagliardi. (2015) “How Nature Meets Nurture: Universal Grammar and Statistical Learning.” Annual Review of Linguistics, 1, 333-353.

  • Omaki, A. and J. Lidz. (2015) “Linking parser development to the acquisition of linguistic knowledge.” Language Acquisition.

  • Han, C.H., J. Lidz and J. Musolino. (submitted) “Grammar selection in the absence of evidence: Korean Scope and Verb-raising Revisited.”

  • Wellwood, A., A. Gagliardi and J. Lidz. (submitted) “Syntactic and Lexical Inference in the Acquisition of Novel Superlatives.”

  • Gagliardi, A., N. Feldman and J. Lidz. (in press) “Sources of statistical insensitivity: Optimal models of suboptimal performance.” Cognitive Science.

  • Gagliardi, A. and J. Lidz. (2014) “Statistical insensitivity in the acquisition of Tsez Noun Classes,” Language, 90, 1-32.

  • Lasnik, H. & J. Lidz. (in press) “Arguments from the Poverty of the Stimulus,” in I. Roberts (ed.). Oxford Handbook of Universal Grammar. Oxford University Press: Oxford.

  • Pearl, L. & J. Lidz (2013). Parameters in Language Acquisition, in C. Boeckx & K. Grohmann (eds.) Cambridge Handbook of Biolinguistics, 129-159. Cambridge University Press: Cambridge.

  • Hunter, T. and J. Lidz. (2012) “Conservativity and the Learnability of Determiners,” Journal of Semantics.

  • Gagliardi, A., N. Feldman & J. Lidz. (2012) “When suboptimal behavior is optimal and why: Modeling the acquisition of noun classes in Tsez. Proceedings of the 2012 meeting of the Cognitive Science Society.

  • Trueswell, J., D. Kaufman, A. Hafri and J. Lidz. (2012) “Development of Parsing Abilities Interacts with Grammar Learning: Evidence from Tagalog and Kannada” Proceedings of the 36th Boston University Conference on Language Development. Cascadilla Press: Cambridge.

  • Viau, J. and J. Lidz. (2011) “Selective Learning in the Acquisition of Kannada Ditransitives,” Language, 87, 679-714.

  • Lidz, J. (2010) “Language Learning and Language Universals,” Biolinguistics 4, 201-217.

  • Pearl, L, and J. Lidz. (2009) “When Domain General Learning Succeeds and When it Fails,” Language Learning and Development, 5:235-265.

  • Christophe, A., S. Millotte, S. Bernal and J. Lidz. (2008) “Bootstrapping Lexical and Syntactic Acquisition,” Language and Speech 51:61-75.

  • Takahashi, E. and J. Lidz. (2008) “Beyond Statistical Learning in Syntax,” Proceedings of Generative Approaches to Language Acquisition.

  • Han, C.H., J. Lidz, and J. Musolino. (2007) “Verb-movement and Grammar Competition in Korean: Evidence from Quantification and Negation,” Linguistic Inquiry 38:1-47.

  • Lidz, J. (2007) “The abstract nature of syntactic representations: Consequences for a theory of learning,” in E. Hoff & M. Shatz (eds.) Handbook of Language Development. Blackwell: Oxford.

  • Lidz, J. and L. Gleitman. (2004) “Yes, we still need Universal Grammar,” Cognition 94:85-93.

  • Lidz, J. and S. Waxman. (2004) “Reaffirming the Poverty of the Stimulus Argument: A reply to the replies,” Cognition 93:157-165.

  • Lidz, J. and L. Gleitman. (2004) “Argument Structure and the Child’s Contribution to Language Learning,” Trends in Cognitive Science 8(4):157-161.

  • Lidz, J., S. Waxman, and J. Freedman. (2003) “What Infants Know about Syntax but Couldn't have Learned: Experimental Evidence for Syntactic Structure at 18-months.” Cognition 89:B65-B73.

  • Lidz, J., H. Gleitman and L. Gleitman. (2003) “Understanding How Input Matters: The Footprint of Universal Grammar on Verb Learning,” Cognition 87:151-178.

Other issues

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Our lab has also occasionally examined problems in phonological learning, the acquisition of morphosyntactic dependencies, and the role of extralinguistic cognition in language acquisition.