Current Studies

Our current studies are about how children learn emotion words, but we are not recruiting participants at the moment (fall/winter 2020).

Emotion Word Learning

Emotion words may be learned via cues from the (non-linguistic) environment about what someone is feeling, e.g. through facial expressions, or through observing the consequences some events can have for how they make a person feel. These words may also be learned in part through the kinds of sentences they are used in. For example, a person can feel hungry or happy, but while you can feel happy about something, you can’t feel hungry about something. We investigate the role that sentence frames play in how children interpret new adjectives as having an emotive meaning.

When it becomes safe again to interact in person, we will begin running our studies at the Museum of Life and Science in Durham, NC.

Past Studies

Morphological Learning

In English, we use the morpheme -s on a noun to indicate that there is more than one of that thing (e.g. one cat, two cats). Other languages have different ways of marking the singular-plural distinction, and sometimes they have more than one way of marking it. We were interested in how children figure out these patterns, and we studied this by “teaching” them words in an artificial language and testing them on new words and expressions they haven’t seen before.

Pertsova, K. & M. Becker (2020) In support of phonological bias in implicit learning. Language Learning & Development.

Emotion Words

Our earlier studies about children’s learning of emotion words examined how children draw inferences about whether a novel word (e.g. daxy) might have an emotion-related meaning by hearing it used in certain sentence context (e.g., I know someone who feels daxy about something). We have also studied how children use a narrative context to determine whether a novel word has a meaning linked to a particular emotion.

Shablack, H., M. Becker & K. Lindquist (2020) How do children learn novel emotion words? A study of emotion concept acquisition in preschoolers. Journal of Experimental Psychology: General, 149(8), pp. 1537-1553.

Abstract Adjectives and Verbs

For many years our lab studied how children learning the meanings of verbs and adjectives with very abstract meanings. These are adjectives like easy and hard, and verbs like seemtend, and used-to. We studied the ways in which children use sentence structure to learn these words and to distinguish them from words that have a similar distribution in language, but in fact have very different grammatical properties.

Becker, M. (2015) Animacy and the acquisition of tough-adjectives. Language Acquisition 22(1), pp. 68-103.

Becker, M. (2009) The role of NP aminacy and expletives in verb learning. Language Acquisition 16(4), pp. 283-296.

Becker, M. (2006) There began to be a learnability puzzle. Linguistic Inquiry 37(3), pp. 441-456.