Speaker: Loes Koring (MIT)
Title: Looking for structure in strings
Time: Wednesday March 22, 3:00 – 5:00 pm
The class of intransitive verbs poses an interesting puzzle for the language-acquiring child. The child has to work out which of these verbs project an unergative and which an unaccusative syntax. The puzzle here is that, in many languages, the surface strings these verbs give rise to, do not provide any (useful) information regarding their underlying structure. A potential complicating factor is that there are reasons to think that young children are not able to project an unaccusative structure in which the internal argument has moved up to subject position. In this talk, I will use the Visual World Paradigm to probe more directly into the underlying structure children assign to sentences with unaccusative verbs by looking at children’s processing signatures for these sentences. The results from the eye-tracking experiments I present are not only informative regarding (the acquisition of) unaccusativity, but the paradigm itself opens up a new way to uncover the underlying structures of different strings (and thus to tease apart competing hypotheses about the structure). Finally, I will discuss the implications of these results with respect to how we think about (the acquisition of) constraints on structural alternations verbs can participate in.