Syntactic bootstrapping

Cynthia Fisher, Yael Gertner, Rose M. Scott, Sylvia Yuan

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Children use syntax to guide verb learning in a process known as syntactic bootstrapping. Recent work explores how syntactic bootstrapping works-how it begins, and how it interacts with progress in syntax acquisition. We review evidence for three claims about the mechanisms and representations underlying syntactic bootstrapping: (1) Learners are biased to represent linguistic knowledge in a usefully abstract mental vocabulary, permitting rapid generalization of newly acquired syntactic knowledge to new verbs. (2) Toddlers collect information about each verb's combinatorial behavior in sentences based on listening experience, before they know anything about the verb's semantic content. (3) Syntactic bootstrapping begins with an unlearned bias to map nouns in sentences oneto-one onto the participant roles in events. These lines of evidence point toward a picture of early verb learning in which shallow structural analyses of sentences are intrinsically meaningful to learners, and in which information about verbs' combinatorial behavior pervades the lexicon from very early in development.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)143-149
Number of pages7
JournalWiley Interdisciplinary Reviews: Cognitive Science
Issue number2
StatePublished - Mar 2010

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General Neuroscience
  • General Psychology


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