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How Syntax Solves Children’s Attitude Problems

Jeffrey Lidz
University of Maryland
February 5, 2016 - 3:30pm
Margaret Jacks Hall, Greenberg Room (460-126)

Attitude verbs (e.g., think, want, hope) have received much attention from linguists and developmental psychologists for several reasons. From a developmental standpoint, their meanings encode internal states not easily observed by learners, posing a classic poverty of the stimulus problem. Children's acquisition of these words has further been used as a window into their understanding of other people's minds. From a linguistic standpoint, attitude reports illustrate important issues at the interfaces of semantics with syntax and with pragmatics. First, different attitude verbs select different kinds of complements; they thus provide a rich terrain to explore the extent to which syntactic selection is semantically-motivated. Second, attitude reports are often used to express indirect speech acts; they thus allow us probe how pragmatic enrichment works. I will discuss recent evidence demonstrating how syntax and pragmatics work together to help children acquire attitude verb meanings and to show how many apparent difficulties with attitude verbs can be traced to preschool-aged children’s sophisticated understanding of the links between syntax and semantics and pragmatics in this domain.

Event Type: 
Linguistics Colloquium