LLF – Bât. ODG – 5e étage – Salle du conseil (533)
Valentine Hacquard (University of Maryland)
How babies acquire clause types and their function
If we hear a speaker ask “Where is Alex?”, we typically assume that the speaker doesn’t know where Alex is, and is seeking that information from their addressee. If we overhear a speaker say “Alex is home”, we typically assume that that speaker knows where Alex is, and is sharing that information with their addressee. What seems to drive our assumptions is the fact that, as competent speakers, we’ve come to associate interrogative clauses with questions, and declarative clauses with assertions. This talk investigates when and how children figure out this association: when and how do children learn the syntactic makeup of the clause types of their language and their canonical function, that is, the speech act that these clauses are typically used for?
We hypothesize that the mapping between clause type and speech act is a crucial precursor to the acquisition of syntactic features that emerge before age two, and that infants figure out form and function in tandem, with their growing knowledge of each mutually constraining the other. I will report on some experiments suggesting that children have linked interrogatives with questions and declaratives with assertions by 18 months, and on corpus analyses and computational modeling of child-directed speech showing how learners can draw from pragmatic and syntactic information and the way they interact, to figure out this mapping.
(joint work with Dan Goodhue, Jeff Lidz, and Yu’an Yang)