The Institute of Mathematical Behavioral Sciences and Center for Language Science present

“How is the Acquisition of Raising and Control Verbs Possible?”
Garrett Mitchener, Department of Mathematics, College of Charleston

Thursday, February 21, 2013
4:00-5:00 p.m.
Social Science Plaza A, Room 2112 (Luce Conference Room)

Raising and control verbs both allow for infinitival complements, as in "John seems to run" (raising) and "Fred tries to run" (control) but the underlying syntax is different: Control verbs have a semantic relationship to the syntactic subject mediated by a silent pronoun--Fred is running and trying. However, raising verbs do not--John is running but not seeming. It is therefore puzzling how children acquire such verbs. Their meanings are rather complex, so knowing the underlying syntax and thematic relationships would be a huge help. However, there is no way to infer that information from just the surface form of a sentence.  Likewise, if the meaning of the verb is known, inferring the correct syntax for the infinitive is straightforward. So how do children, who known neither, learn both? Data collected by Misha Becker of UNC Chapel Hill suggests that the strong preference of control verbs for animate subjects may be enough information to bootstrap the learning process. Mitchener will discuss her data, in particular how resistant it is to statistical analysis, and explain how a hierarchical Bayesian model (HBM) finally revealed that there is enough information in subject animacy to distinguish the two classes of verbs.

For further information, please contact Janet Phelps, or 949-824-8651.

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