Putting lexical cues into discourse context

In this work package, we will use corpus analyses and eye-tracking to understand how children learn to favour contextual information over lexical information in their interpretation of simple and complex sentences, a development critical to children’s ability to understand longer conversations and text.

Early in development, children are highly sensitive to both frequent multiword chunks (e.g., he’s catching the X) and to aspects of the discourse context such as what is ‘new’ information for their conversation partner. But they don’t always coordinate the two. For example, they don’t necessarily understand that they should use a lexical noun phrase (e.g., the boy) to refer to a new referent and pronouns (e.g., he) to refer to a given referent. And sometimes these sources of information compete (e.g., conversation partners use a lexical noun phrase to refer to a given referent), so children must learn to prioritise the most reliable information in any given context.

We will build models of these developmental shifts in information processing, which will enable us to advise educators on the kinds of cues children use, and how best to support more mature language use.

Project Team: Ben Ambridge, Silke Brandt (lead), Jacky Chan, Anna Theakston

Duration: 3 years, starting 1 May 2020

Project Number: 2.2