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Harder Words: Learning Abstract Verbs with Opaque Syntax


Language Learning and Development Volume 9, Number 3, ISSN 1547-5441


Highly abstract predicates (e.g. "think") present a number of difficulties for language learners (Gleitman et al., 2005). A partial solution to learning these verbs is that learners exploit regularities in the syntactic frames in which these verbs occur. While agreeing with this general approach to learning verbs, we caution that this strategy is not sufficient for learning another class of abstract verbs known as "raising" verbs ("seem") since their argument structure frames cannot always be directly read off of the surface syntax. We conducted a novel verb learning study to test the role played by subject (in)animacy in determining the syntactic frame of novel verbs that could be categorized as raising verbs. Animacy is useful since raising but not control verbs admit inanimate subjects ("The rock seems/#claims to be heavy"). We outline a two-step process of probabilistic verb categorization that relies on subject animacy in addition to more traditional Syntactic Bootstrapping assumptions. We conclude by suggesting more general applications of this process to learning other kinds of opaque abstract predicates. (Contains 8 tables, 2 figures, and 10 footnotes.)


Becker, M. & Estigarribia, B. (2013). Harder Words: Learning Abstract Verbs with Opaque Syntax. Language Learning and Development, 9(3), 211-244. Retrieved January 20, 2022 from .

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