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Lecture

Unit 7: Sentence Processing

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Department
Psychology
Course
Psychology 2134A/B
Professor
Marc Joanisse
Semester
Summer

Description
Unit 7Sentence Processing Overview In this class you will learn how we take individual words and use them to understand sentences As we learned in previous lectures this can be a complex process because of how we need syntax to properly decode the structure of sentences You will learn about concepts of Syntactic development in children ambiguity lexical and syntactic parsing bottomup versus topdown theories of processing methodologies including selfpaced reading and eyetracking Development of Syntax in Children Time course Childrens syntax develops slowly Early on we see a 1 word phase around ages 1016 Here we obseve children saying just one word at a time These are mostly nouns which as discussed previously tend to develop earliest They also appear to be holophrases which are singlewords that stand in for multiword utterances For instance the child might say juice to ask for more juice or mine to indicate that something is hers These oneword utterances often indicate Desire gimme Emotion bad Naming kitty Sometime around 2 years of age we observe a 2 word phase where children start to string pairs of words together For instance mommy go gimme sock pretty doggie As the length of sentences increases we observe children continue to produce telegraphic speech the produce short groups of words that leave out unimportant grammatical markers and other components and just say what is important For instance mommy gimme sock Note that even at this stage the groupings of of words tend to be grammatical in the sense that they follow the predicted word order rules of the language So they tend to say mommy gimme sock but not sock mommy gimme This is important because it indicates children are learning some of the syntactic principles of the target language Measuring Syntactic Development We often use the Mean Length of Utterance MLU measure to assess syntactic development This is the average number of morphemes in a childs sentences We might record a few minutes or more of a childs utterances during a single session Then for each utterance we calculate how many morphemes they produced and then the mean of this What we notice is that there is a very rapid increase in MLU between ages 16 and 40 Consider data from two childrenUnderstanding Complex forms Children learn to understanduse certain sentence types earlier than others For instance they develop actives earlier than passives For instance we might show kids the following pictureChildren younger than about 4 years old tend to find it easier to tell you which picture goes with a below than b aHomer is pushing Margeb Homer is pushed by MargeThis tells us that children are learning passives later than actives Using a similar procedure we see that children have difficulty with subject vs object relatives The elephant that is washing the giraffe is sick SR The elephant that the giraffe is washing is sick OR Can you tell whos washing in either case Children find the second sentence harder to understand But Context Helps Linguist Steve Crain examined how children learn object vs subject relatives He presented children with the sentence The elephant that the giraffe is washing is sick Then he showed either picture in which there was only elephant or many elephants He found that kids were better at judging who is being washed if there is more than one elephant in a context The reason for this is that kids find it easier to understand a weird sentence like The elephant that the giraffe is washing is sick if they can understand why you would say it this way One reason why you use relative clauses that the giraffe is washing is to help elaborate on what you are talking about
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