Brown Bag du 10/04/2017 à 11H30 Alex de Carvalho LSCP, École Normale Supérieure


Salle C

Phrasal prosody guides young children in the discovery of syntax
and word meanings

Having access to the syntactic structure of sentences can help children to
discover the meaning of novel words and learn different aspects of their
language (e.g., Gleitman, 1990). But since syntax defines the rules that
build words into sentences, creating complex meanings, how can babies
access the syntactic structure of sentences without first knowing the
meanings of the words? Given that the prosodic structure of a sentence
correlates with its syntactic structure (e.g., Nespor & Vogel, 1986), many
theories suggest that infants might use prosody to bootstrap their way
into syntactic acquisition (e.g., Morgan & Demuth, 1995; Christophe et
al., 2008). In this talk, we will present a series of studies testing
whether the relationship between syntactic structure and prosodic
structure affects children’s syntactic processing skills and impacts their
learning. Our results show that even in absence of an extensive
vocabulary, infants are able to exploit prosodic cues to access the
syntactic structure of sentences, which in turn helps them to determine
the syntactic category of novel words and therefore constrain their
meanings: participants interpreted a novel word as either a noun,
referring to an object, or a verb, referring to an action, given only its
position within the prosodic-syntactic structure of sentences. This
ability to simultaneously use prosody to infer syntax and syntax to infer
meaning might be extremely useful in shaping language acquisition.