Children Use Statistics and Semantics in the Retreat from Overgeneralization

Abstract

How do children learn to restrict their productivity and avoid ungrammatical utterances? The present study addresses this question by examining why some verbs are used with un- prefixation (e.g., unwrap) and others are not (e.g., *unsqueeze). Experiment 1 used a priming methodology to examine children's (3–4; 5–6) grammatical restrictions on verbal un- prefixation. To elicit production of un-prefixed verbs, test trials were preceded by a prime sentence, which described reversal actions with grammatical un- prefixed verbs (e.g., Marge folded her arms and then she unfolded them). Children then completed target sentences by describing cartoon reversal actions corresponding to (potentially) un- prefixed verbs. The younger age-group's production probability of verbs in un- form was negatively related to the frequency of the target verb in bare form (e.g., squeez/e/ed/es/ing), while the production probability of verbs in un- form for both age groups was negatively predicted by the frequency of synonyms to a verb's un- form (e.g., release/*unsqueeze). In Experiment 2, the same children rated the grammaticality of all verbs in un- form. The older age-group's grammaticality judgments were (a) positively predicted by the extent to which each verb was semantically consistent with a semantic “cryptotype” of meanings - where “cryptotype” refers to a covert category of overlapping, probabilistic meanings that are difficult to access - hypothesised to be shared by verbs which take un-, and (b) negatively predicted by the frequency of synonyms to a verb's un- form. Taken together, these experiments demonstrate that children as young as 4;0 employ pre-emption and entrenchment to restrict generalizations, and that use of a semantic cryptotype to guide judgments of overgeneralizations is also evident by age 6;0. Thus, even early developmental accounts of children's restriction of productivity must encompass a mechanism in which a verb's semantic and statistical properties interact.

Publication DOI: https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0110009
Divisions: College of Health & Life Sciences > School of Psychology
College of Health & Life Sciences
Additional Information: © 2014 Blything et al. This is an open-access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License, which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original author and source are credited.
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Related URLs: https://journal ... al.pone.0110009 (Publisher URL)
PURE Output Type: Article
Published Date: 2014-10-15
Authors: Blything, Ryan P. (ORCID Profile 0000-0003-2285-7219)
Ambridge, Ben
Lieven, Elena V. M.

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