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Conceptual-Intentional bootstrapping in the acquisition of the English verb

Parr, N; (2012) Conceptual-Intentional bootstrapping in the acquisition of the English verb. Doctoral thesis, UCL (University College London). Green open access

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Abstract

In the thesis I argue that intentionality, infant subjective knowledge and metacognitive growth, all interact to constrain and focus language acquisition to an inevitable and successful outcome. Neither innate UG, nor emergent usage based theories adequately address these elements and the literature review reveals that some or all them are either assumed, side-lined or left unconsidered by standard bootstrapping hypotheses. When foregrounded however, these elements can be demonstrated to provide a bridge between the conceptual and syntactic systems. I show that initially, infants’ utterances focus on the ‘here-and-now’ in joint attention, and they express infant subjective knowledge about how dynamic properties are attributive of substantive objects/entities. Uses of apparent nominal and verbal forms lack their typical grammatical function. Infants around 18months old, experience an inherent meta-cognitive development, which enables them to collate representations of Manifest Events, alongside a contrasting, constructed representation of a desired or intentional state of affairs. These Complex Events involve sub-events which are not currently in shared attention. Associated utterances involve intentions and desires, which require them to be understood by others. The acquisition of a conventional means of expression is therefore paramount. The research presents three sets of corpus studies based on 22,000 infant utterances, and includes exemplification from diary evidence, to show the inevitable bootstrapping effect of such intentional utterances. Complex Events require a predicate that describes an intentional state change and also a means to refer to a theme object that ‘measures out’ the change. In effect, it requires the use of Verbs and DPs. In contrast to other theories I show that it is only Complex Events that are the locus for the advent of grammatical categories [V] and [DP] and that a surprisingly simple, minimalist Merge process licensed by a selectional feature afforded by ‘it’, effectively bootstraps the syntactic system for English.

Type:Thesis (Doctoral)
Title:Conceptual-Intentional bootstrapping in the acquisition of the English verb
Open access status:An open access version is available from UCL Discovery
Language:English

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