Thematic relations as a cue to verb class: 2-year-olds distinguish unaccusatives from unergatives
Previous work shows that children use syntactic information to guide their hypotheses about verb meaning. Bunger & Lidz 2004 demonstrated that 2-year-olds map novel unaccusative verbs onto just the result subevent of a complex causative event and novel transitive verbs onto the entire causative event. We present data from a new preferential looking study demonstrating that 2-year-olds map novel unergative verbs onto the means subevent of a causative. We conclude that the interpretation of novel verbs is driven not only by the number of arguments in a given syntactic frame, but also by the semantic roles played by those arguments.