Children assume an asymmetry in syntax indicates an asymmetry in meaning
Some words have a symmetrical meaning. For example, the sentence, “Bill met Jane” necessitates that, “Jane met Bill.” Contrast this with, “Bill kicked Jane” which does not necessitate that “Jane kicked Bill.” Thus, “meet” is symmetrical and “kicked” is asymmetrical. Other words with symmetrical meanings include “next to” and “argue.” However, when these words are used in a transitive syntax, an asymmetry in meaning is introduced. It sounds perfectly fine to say, “The bike is next to the garage,” but odd to say, “The garage is next to the bike.” The “bike” is a small, mobile object which we call a Figure. The garage is a large, immobile object which we call a Ground. Subjects of sentences are Figures and Objects of sentences are Grounds. Note that this is about sentence structure, not word meaning, since the figure-ground difference goes away for intransitive sentences like, “The garage is next to the bike.” Prior work has shown that 4- to 8-year-old assume an asymmetry in syntax indicates an asymmetry in meaning. This project seeks to understand if 2- to 4-year-old children assume that an asymmetry in meaning indicates an asymmetry in meaning. If they do make this assumption, we want to know if they can use it to make hypotheses about word meaning. We found evidence that children over 3.5 years of age do make this assumption. However, we did not find evidence that they used this assumption to form hypotheses about word meaning.
Hi Abigail, Very nice job…
Very nice job with your poster presentation on a cool question. One of your closing thoughts was that the task may have been too hard for the children... that trying to get them to learn two nouns in a single task was overly taxing... If this possibility is correct, does it sink any hopes of definitively answering your targeted question? I was trying to think of another design that could get at your target question but I was struggling to come up with one that avoided obvious confounds. For example, I started thinking perhaps you could design a study where only one of the two nouns was unknown to the child (e.g. block is next to the fep vs. fep is next to the block) along with a picture two unknown objects--one small, one big--in the near vicinity of the block. By the logic of the setup, 'block is next to the fep' would direct the gaze to the large object, and 'fep is next to the block' would direct the gaze to the small object... Doesn't avoid confounds completely, but i thought that might be an avenue you could think your way down a bit with John and Victor to see if it leads anywhere promising.