Filler-gap dependency comprehension at 15 months: The role of vocabulary
Laurel Perkins, Jeffrey Lidz
March 2018

15-month-olds behave as if they comprehend filler-gap dependencies such as wh-questions and relative clauses (Gagliardi, Mease, & Lidz, 2016; Seidl, Hollich, & Jusczyk, 2003). On one hypothesis, this success does not reflect adult-like representations, but rather a "gap-driven" interpretation heuristic based on verb knowledge (Gagliardi et al., 2016). Infants who know that "feed" is transitive may notice that a predicted direct object is missing in "Which monkey did the frog feed __?" and then search the display for the animal that got fed. This gap-driven account predicts that 15-month-olds will perform accurately only if they know enough verbs to deploy this interpretation heuristic; therefore, performance should depend on vocabulary. We test this prediction in a preferential looking task and find corroborating evidence: only 15-month-olds with higher vocabulary behave as if they comprehend wh-questions and relative clauses.
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Reference: lingbuzz/004188
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keywords: syntax acquisition, wh-movement, filler-gap dependencies, argument structure, verb learning, syntax
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