Learning to parse and its implications for language acquisition

John C. Trueswell and Lila R. Gleitman

Published in print August 2007 | ISBN: 9780198568971
Published online September 2012 | | DOI:
Learning to parse and its implications for language acquisition

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  • Psychology
  • Cognitive Psychology
  • Cognitive Neuroscience



This article describes what is known about the adult end-state, namely, that the adult listener recovers the syntactic structure of an utterance in real-time via interactive probabilistic parsing procedures. It examines evidence indicating that similar mechanisms are at work quite early during language learning, such that infants and toddlers attempt to parse the speech stream probabilistically. In the case of learning, though, the parsing is in aid of discovering relevant lower-level linguistic formatives such as syllables and words. Experimental observations about child sentence-processing abilities are still quite sparse, owing in large part to the difficulty in applying adult experimental procedures to child participants; reaction time, reading, and linguistic judgement methods have all have been attempted with children. The article discusses real-time sentence processing in adults, experimental exploration of child sentence processing, eye movements during listening and the kindergarten-path effect, verb biases in syntactic ambiguity resolution, prosody and lexical biases in child parsing, parsing development in a head-final language, and the place of comprehension in a theory of language acquisition.

Keywords: parsing; utterance; language learning; language acquisition; sentence processing; eye movements; listening; verb biases; prosody; children

Article.  14683 words. 

Subjects: Psychology ; Cognitive Psychology ; Cognitive Neuroscience

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