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Welcome to the homepage for the fourth annual Michigan State Undergraduate Linguistics Conference (MSULC), brought to you by the q Undergraduate Association for Linguistics at Michigan State (qUALMS)! MSULC 2013 will be held on April 5, 2013, in the B-Wing of Wells Hall. We're pleased to announce that our keynote speaker will be Megan Sutton, from the University of Maryland linguistics program.


Keynote Address:

Fishing For the Grammar: Investigating Syntactic Knowledge in Children Under Three
- Megan Sutton, University of Maryland

While the aim of language acquisition research is often to describe the nature of the child's developing grammar, we face a challenge in that the grammar itself is not visible to us- we must rely on observable behavior. And further, children's behavior is not directly indicative of their grammatical knowledge, in two important ways. First, behavior is inherently a function of both a child's grammatical knowledge and the deployment processes required to implement this knowledge in real time. Second, in certain situations both accurate adult-like grammar and a grammar relying on a non-adult heuristic can yield the same behavior. 

I'll present as a test case research investigating the developmental pattern of children's acquisition of Principle C. Principle C is the Binding Theory constraint which blocks a reflexive interpretation of sentences like "she likes Katie" (i.e. such a sentence can't mean that Katie likes herself). I will show evidence from two lines of study exploring children's understanding of Principle C at 30 months. The first capitalizes on differences in behavior which are indicative of differences in deployment capabilities; from this we can make inferences about the underlying knowledge that children are relying on, in terms of whether this knowledge is structurally dependent, as in adults. The second line of studies aims to contrast behavior predicted by adult-like knowledge of Principle C and that predicted by various non-adult heuristics that children could use as alternative interpretive methods; I will show that in each case adult-like knowledge of Principle C is the only way to account for all of children's behavior at 30 months. Taken together, these results suggest that at the youngest ages at which we are (as of yet) able to test children's knowledge of Principle C, children are adult-like not only in their behavior but also in the underlying knowledge which drives it.

At the broadest level, this work illustrates the delicate balance between measures of grammatical knowledge and grammatical performance. Drawing inferences about the state of underlying knowledge directly from observed behavior is not straightforward; rather, accurate diagnosis of children's grammatical competence requires specification of the effect of the deployment systems required to implement such knowledge, as well as careful comparison of performance across many contexts.


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Our conference is possible with the generous support of:
  • The Office of the Provost (Undergraduate Education)
  • The College of Arts and Letters
  • The Department of Linguistics, Germanic, Slavic, Asian, and African Languages
  • The Cognitive Science Program
  • The Honors College
- Haley Rooney
MSULC Chair, qUALMS