LingLang Lunch (2/15/2017): Sudha Arunachalam (Boston University)

Sudha Arunachalam is interested in how children acquire verbs, including their lexical and event semantic properties, how they represent these along with their syntactic properties, and how they access these representations during online comprehension–in both typical and atypical development. . For more information, her website is here.

Informativeness and processing cost in verb acquisition: Evidence from typical language development and autism spectrum disorder

Acquiring the meanings of verbs is a notoriously challenging task of early childhood. One helpful source of information about verb meaning is the linguistic context in which verbs appear, but to make use of linguistic context (in a process known as syntactic bootstrapping), children have to deploy their still developing language processing skills. We have found that to be supportive for verb acquisition, linguistic contexts must achieve a balance between providing helpful information for learning and being sufficiently easy to process. We recently developed a new paradigm to see what kinds of linguistic contexts parents use, and how children process their parents’ speech in real-time. Our results indicate that parents are sensitive to this balance and tailor their language to provide supportive contexts. Because children with language and communication disorders such as autism often have impaired processing ability, we are also beginning to explore what this balance looks like for children with autism and how their parents tailor their language accordingly.