Finite complements trigger reality responses in attitude verb acquisition... but so do non-finite complements

Kaitlyn Harrigan


The syntactic bootstrapping hypothesis was developed to explain how children learn verbs whose meanings are opaque, e.g. attitude verbs, which refer to the mental state of the subject of the sentence. Belief verbs (like think) take finite complements, while desire verbs (like want) take non-finite complements. Children differentiate these subclasses by three: they are lured by reality when there is a mismatch between the subject's belief and reality when interpreting think, but not with want. Previous work also shows that when interpreting a less common attitude verb, hope, children are influenced by syntactic frame, supporting view that syntax guides children's acquisition of attitude verbs. The current study investigates when syntax becomes useful to the learner. Children are presented with sentences including a novel verb with either a finite or a non-finite complement. Children are not influenced by syntax when interpreting a novel attitude verb, suggesting that syntactic complements only become useful for hypothesizing meaning once the learner has some experience with a specific attitude verb.


language acquisition; word learning; verb learning; syntactic bootstrapping; attitude verbs

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