Syntactic Bootstrapping

Much of the research on semantic development has focused on the acquisition of nouns. Verbs, on the other hand, pose a different kind of problem because there is often not enough information in the context to help the child distinguish between related verbs such as "look" and "see." Children need to use syntactic information to help them figure out the meanings of verbs. The particular kinds of information that children can use include the number and kind of arguments that occur with the verb. Thus, transitive verbs take object arguments, whereas intransitive verbs do not. This kind of information is useful in helping the child interpret verb meaning. Syntactic bootstrapping is also useful for helping the child distinguish mass nouns (e.g., spaghetti) from count nouns (e.g., a potato) or common nouns from proper names, and very young children have been shown to be able to use this information when they hear new words in ambiguous contexts. As children's language progresses and they begin acquiring knowledge about the syntactic frames in which words occur, they begin to integrate syntactic and semantic information in this way. This process underscores the interrelationships that drive both semantic and syntactic development.



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