The Acquisition of Syntactic Structure

The Acquisition of Syntactic Structure : Animacy and Thematic Alignment

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This book explains a well-known puzzle that helped catalyze the establishment of generative syntax: how children tease apart the different syntactic structures associated with sentences like John is easy/eager to please. The answer lies in animacy: taking the premise that subjects are animate, the book argues that children can exploit the occurrence of an inanimate subject as a cue to a non-canonical structure, in which that subject is displaced (the book is easy/*eager to read). The author uses evidence from a range of linguistic subfields, including syntactic theory, typology, language processing, conceptual development, language acquisition, and computational modeling, exposing readers to these different kinds of data in an accessible way. The theoretical claims of the book expand the well-known hypotheses of Syntactic and Semantic Bootstrapping, resulting in greater coverage of the core principles of language acquisition. This is a must-read for researchers in language acquisition, syntax, psycholinguistics and computational linguistics.
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Product details

  • Online resource
  • Cambridge University Press (Virtual Publishing)
  • Cambridge, United Kingdom
  • English
  • 32 b/w illus. 26 tables
  • 1139022032
  • 9781139022033

Review quote

'This book is a major milestone for acquisition research in the 'strict' sense: what exactly does the adult know, and how do children acquire that knowledge? Becker is conversant with an unusually broad range of disciplines, including generative grammar, developmental psychology, and computational modeling. This enables her to support the book's central thesis - that children use animacy cues for detecting syntactic displacement - with strong, converging evidence from cross-linguistic comparisons, adult psycholinguistics, Bayesian models, transcripts of child-directed speech, and laboratory experiments with children.' William Snyder, Linguistics and Cognitive Science, University of Connecticut
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About Misha Becker

Misha Becker is an Associate Professor in the linguistics department at the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill, where she has taught courses in linguistic theory and child language acquisition since 2002.
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Table of contents

1. Introduction; 2. The syntax of displacing and non-displacing predicates; 3. Argument hierarchies; 4. Animacy and adult sentence processing; 5. Animacy and children's language; 6. Modeling the acquisition of displacing predicates; 7. Conclusions and origins.
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