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Colloquium with Kristen Syrett (Rutgers)
Meeting ID: 989 2985 0267
Abstract: Making comparisons and interpreting comparatives in child language
Rutgers University – New Brunswick
For many years now, researchers in language and cognitive development have been plagued by children’s divergent non-adult-like productions of comparative constructions, and their apparent inability to properly interpret even the most basic of comparatives (although researchers have also thrown some complicated ones their way!). The source of the difficulty has been alternatively attributed to a lack of understanding of language-specific comparative morphology, a misinterpretation of the form of the adjective, or a reanalysis of the syntax of the comparative. In this talk, I will present evidence from a number of studies coming out of my lab in the last few years demonstrating that not only do children perform at or near ceiling with certain basic comparative constructions, but they also have sophisticated knowledge of the adjectival scalar structure that feeds into comparatives, as well as the syntactic and semantic building blocks in place to represent comparative structures. Why, then, does it take them so long across other tasks to properly interpret and produce comparative constructions? I consider multiple explanations, and lay out a path for a promising line of future research on degree constructions in child language.