They have to learn its words, its sound patterns, and its syntactic characteristics. For each of these domains, being able to rely on knowledge from the other domains would simplify the learner's task. For instance, since syntax specifies the relationships between the words in a sentence, it makes sense to assume that infants need access to words and their meanings in order to acquire syntax. On the other hand, Lila Gleitman showed, very convincingly, that acquiring word meanings was a difficult problem that would be much simplified if infants had access to some aspects of syntactic structure (Gleitman, 1990). This leads to an apparent paradox, or 'bootstrapping problem': the lexicon is necessary for syntactic acquisition, and syntax is necessary for lexical acquisition.
These potential circularities can partially be solved if infants can learn some aspects of the structure of their language through a surface analysis of the speech input they are exposed to. In my work, I focus on phrasal prosody and function words, showing that infants acquire these aspects of their mother tongue early, on the basis of bottom-up analysis of the speech input. I suggest that these two sources of information may allow them to start building a rough syntactic analysis of the sentences they hear, the syntactic skeleton.
‘Habilitation à Diriger des Recherches’, Paris VI university, 2006.
Member of the French national funding agency scientific committee (ANR), in Social and Human Sciences (human development and cognition, language and communication) in 2009, 2011, 2012 (vice-president), 2013 (president).
Member of the Strategic Orientation Committee of Aix-Marseille University (Sept 2015), and of the Scientific Advisory Board of the Donders Institute (Nijmegen, Holland, since 2016), and the Center for Linguistics of the University of Lisbon (Portugal, since 2016).
Main research grants: ANR 'LangAge', 390k€, 2018-2022; ANR ‘LangLearn’, 411 k€, 2014-2017; Fondation de France, 100 k€, 2012-2015 ; ANR 'BootLang', 250 k€ 2010-2013 ; ANR 'AcqLang', 250 k€ 2006-2009.
International collaborations (past and present): John Trueswell (University of Pennsylvania, Philadelphia), Jeff Lidz (Maryland, USA), Daniel Swingley (University of Pennsylvania, Philadelphia), Cynthia Fisher (University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign), Reiko Mazuka (Riken Brain Science Institute, Japan), Angela Friederici (Max Planck Institut for Human Cognitive and Brain Sciences, Leipzig, Germany), Toben Mintz (University of Southern California, USA), Roger Wales (La Trobe University, Australia), James Morgan (Brown University, Providence, USA); Nuria Sebastian-Galles and Laura Bosch (University of Barcelona, Spain), Marina Nespor (Milan, Italy); Teresa Guasti (Milan, Italy).
Supervised PhD theses:
Kolberg, L. (2020). The role of prosodic boundary information for the comprehension of stripping sentences by French and Brazilian Portuguese-learning children. PhD thesis, Ecole normale supérieure – PSL University, Paris
Barbir, M. (2019). The way we learn. PhD thesis, Ecole normale supérieure – PSL University, Paris
de Carvalho, A. (2017). Le rôle de la prosodie et des mots grammaticaux dans l'acquisition du sens des mots. Unpublished PhD thesis, Ecole normale supérieure / PSL Research University, Paris. pdf
Dautriche, I. (2015). Weaving an ambiguous lexicon. Unpublished PhD thesis, Universite Paris Descartes, Paris. pdf
Costa, M. (2015). Argument structure in language acquisition: an ERP study. Unpublished PhD thesis, Universidade Federal do Rio do Janeiro.
Brusini, P. (2012). Découvrir les noms et les verbes: quand les classes sémantiques initialisent les catégories syntaxiques. Unpublished PhD thesis, Universite Paris VI.
Cauvet, E. (2012). Traitement des structures syntaxiques dans le langage et la musique. Main supervisor: Christophe Pallier. Unpublished PhD thesis, Universite Paris VI.
Bernal, S. (2006). De l'arbre (syntaxique) au fruit (du sens): interactions des acquisitions lexicale et syntaxique chez l'enfant de moins de 2 ans. Unpublished PhD thesis, Universite Paris VI. pdf.
Millotte, S. (2005). Le rôle de la prosodie dans le traitement syntaxique adulte et l'acquisition de la syntaxe. Unpublished PhD thesis, Ecole des Hautes Etudes en Sciences Sociales, Paris. pdf
Gout, A. (2001). Etapes précoces de l'acquisition du lexique. Unpublished PhD thesis, Ecole des Hautes Etudes en Sciences Sociales, Paris. pdf
Associate Editor for Language Learning and Development, since 2017, Developmental Science, 2009-2013, Language & Speech, 2002-2009.
Member of the Editorial Board of Language Learning and Development, since 2003, Language Acquisition, since 2011, and Cognition, 2000-2004.
Invited expert for a number of peer-reviewed journals, including PNAS, Science, Nature, Psychological Science, Cognitive Psychology, Trends in Cognitive Science, etc.