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Current Projects

Faculty and Graduate Students


2017-2020       NSF BCS 1656133 – Effects of variation and variability in the acquisition of two dialects of Spanish. (with Alicia Avellana and Lucia Brandani, Universidad de Buenos Aires) 

2016-2018       MSU HARP – Development Intramural Research Grant Effects of variation and variability in the acquisition of Rioplatense and Paraguayan Spanish spoken in Buenos Aires Co-PIs:  Alicia Avellana and Lucia Brandani Universidad de Buenos Aires

Effects of variation and variability in the acquisition of two dialects of Spanish

PI: Cristina Schmitt (MSU), Co-PI: Alicia Avellana (UBA-Conicet), Lucia Brandani (UBA-Gen. Sarmiento)

Project Manager: Hannah Forsythe

Research Assistants in Argentina: Anita Primucci, Marisol de los Rios, Ana Laura Castaniza

NSF BCS-1656133 2017-2020

This project investigates children’s acquisition of Spanish under conditions of language contact. Language contact involving closely related varieties poses an interesting problem for language acquisition. The child is exposed to input data which may not be consistent with a single grammar, despite the fact that overall similarity between the two varieties would potentially support a single grammar analysis. The principle activities will be to build two corpora of child and adult natural speech of the two Spanish varieties and analyze children’s acquisition of three linguistic properties that exhibit variability across varieties. The corpora will be made available to researchers worldwide via the Child Language Data Exchange System. The corpus analysis will be supplemented with experimental data. Qualitative and quantitative results will shed light on the nature of the language acquisition process and the effect that variability has on it. The project tests two hypothesis: first, that the there is tension between the child’s drive to make generalizations as quickly as possible and the drive to be faithful to the input, which resists simplification. The second hypothesis is that in situations of contact children are not “choosing” a particular dialect in all of its properties, but rather, that generalizations are made on a property-by-property basis.

Discourse and Grammatical Cues in the Acquisition of Spanish Pronouns

Hannah Forsythe

Pronouns can only be interpreted by combining information from many levels of representation, from low-level grammatical features (person, number, gender) to high-level discourse conditions. How do children integrate these different pieces of information? This project uses multiple experimental methods, including picture selection, Truth-value judgment, and act-out tasks to probe children’s sensitivity to discourse and grammatical features in pronoun resolution.

Children’s interpretation of get and have

Hannah Forsythe, Julia Andary, and Catherine Seibert

Light verbs are characterized by their syntactic and semantic flexibility. The claim has been made that these verbs are composed of a small number of semantic “atoms”. For example have is composed of a state, [BE], plus a prepositional element, [AT]. And get is composed of the same atoms plus a transition [CHANGE], which can either be initiated by a volitional agent or not. This project uses TVJ tasks to ask two questions: 1) Do children have access to both agentive and non-agentive interpretations of the [CHANGE] atom? and 2) How do children anchor the [BE]+[AT] state in time?


Morphological Tagging Project

Amaresh Joshi, Hannah Forsythe, Samantha Oldenberg, and Virginia Smith

This project tries to extract morphological information from written language transcriptions combining results from automated tools (CHILDES) with judgements from informants. They want to use the knowledge of native speakers to improve the performance of the automatic systems.


“Give me the cats”: What would Vietnamese-speaking children give us?


This project replicates an act-out task from Munn et al. (2006) testing comprehension of plural and singular definites by Vietnamese children ages 3 to 7. Contra results from English and Spanish, this experiment shows Vietnamese children make few definiteness errors, instead struggling with number. It argues that this difference arises from how children integrate number and definiteness when the task is difficult. Children acquiring languages with definite determiners and grammatical number (English or Spanish) sacrifice definiteness in favor of number, while those acquiring languages like Vietnamese prioritize definiteness, resulting in number errors.


Undergraduate Students

Category Formation in Adults and Children using Artificial Language Learning

Julia Andary

Children are able to form categories during word learning in order to understand and create structure. Based on the work on Schuler et. al. This project will be looking how adults and children learn category information using artificial language learning. Specifically, it will look at how word frequency and structural combination have an influence on judgements.


The German Genitive: A Variational Analysis

Natasha Chemey

This project uses distributed morphology to explore the underlying syntax of case morphology in German, and in particular exploring variation and/or change in the genitive case.


Nonstandard Meta-linguistic Awareness

Meredith Chesney

The project looks at various nonstandard English variables, as well as African American nonstandard variables judgments. Participants will be presented with both sets of variables, to see how adept people are at correctly identifying African American English variables. A second group of native AAE speakers will be asked if they personally have the variables presented to them. From there the comparison of their SE/AAE performance will be evaluated in conjunction with school performance. Additionally, the results from the first group will be evaluated to see if there is an over generalization that all nonstandard variables will be assigned to AAE.


Lenition in South American Spanish

Rob Felster

Rob is looking at lenition in Paraguayan and Argentinian Spanish and its relation to language acquisition of number.


Do Children Intrepret “or” as a Scalar Implicature?

Rob Felster, Abby Jaroszewicz, Adam Smolinski, and Rachel Stacey

This project focuses on how or patterns compared to other scalar implicatures, and is investigating whether it truly behaves like an implicature.



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