Monday Colloquium: Using linguistic context to acquire the adjective meaning

Kristen Syrett (Rutgers University)
Event time: 
Monday, January 22, 2024 - 4:00pm to 5:30pm
Event description: 

Abstract: While adjectives are not typically among the first words produced, eventually every child acquiring a language with adjectives has them in their lexicon. So how did they get there? Previous developmental studies have focused on children’s uphill climb determining that novel words in prenominal (attributive) position should be interpreted as having a property-denoting meaning (as opposed to one that selects object kinds), and there is promising evidence that children can recruit certain aspects of the linguistic context to narrow the hypothesis space of adjective meaning. Until now, however, we have lacked an exhaustive analysis of naturally-occurring child-directed speech to determine just how potent the input can be for acquiring adjective meaning, as well as experimental evidence that systematically applies the syntactic bootstrapping approach so prevalent with verbs to this grammatical category. In this talk, I will focus in on one group of adjective in particular (emotion and mental state adjectives) to show through corpus and experimental work that certain semantic and syntactic aspects of the linguistic context robustly support the acquisition of these adjectives. I then turn to discussing what it exactly it is about these specific environments that supports adjective meaning, and how to draw parallels between syntactic bootstrapping with emotion and mental state adjectives on the one hand, and propositional attitude (mental state) verbs on the other.  (joint work with Misha Becker, UNC)