photo: Chris Carmichael
Associate Professor and Director of Undergraduate Studies
Spring 2016 Office Hours: Thursdays 12:30-2:30 p.m. or by appointment
email: mbecker (at) email.unc.edu
|Research Interests||Lab||Courses||CV||Recent Publications|
My background is in syntactic theory and the acquisition of syntax, both morphosyntax and argument structure, in children (monolingual first language). I'm also interested in bilingualism, language revitalization, Specific Language Impairment, computational modeling of language learning, learnability theory, and experimental methodologies for studying implicit linguistic knowledge.
For the past decade or so my research has focused on how children learn "displacing" predicates. These are verbs and adjectives that do not select an external argument (subject) and thus allow another NP to be "displaced" into the subject position. Displacing predicates include raising verbs (e.g. seem or appear), tough adjectives (easy), and unaccusative verbs (arrive). My main question is how children distinguish these predicates from control verbs (want or claim), control adjectives (eager), and unergative verbs (laugh). These are predicates that do select an external argument but occur in superficially similar sentence environments (e.g. John seems/claims to like pizza). The answer I have pursued is that NP animacy provides a crucial cue: encountering a predicate with an inanimate subject should tell learners that the predicate is a displacing predicate.
In 2014 I published a book about how NP (in)animacy helps children acquire displacing predicates.
In addition, I have on-going collaborative projects with:
And past collaborations with:
- Kristen Lindquist (UNC Social Psychology) on children's acquisition of emotion words and recognition of emotion in facial expressions
- Benjamin Frey (UNC American Studies) on Cherokee language revitalization in conjunction with the New Kituwah school in western North Carolina
- Megan Gotowski (UCLA) on children's acquisition of wh-questions in French and English
- W. Garrett Mitchener (Mathematics, College of Charleston) on developing a computational learning algorithm to model how children acquire the distinction between raising and control verbs, and other pairs of displacing and non-displacing predicates;
- Bruno Estigarribia (Romance Languages, UNC) on experiments with adults and children to discover how sentential factors (e.g. subject animacy) influence individual's inferences about novel raising/control verbs and tough/control adjectives;
My graduate work focused more on the acquisition of morphosyntax and aspect. My dissertation is on the acquisition of the copula (be) in English (Becker, M. 2000. The development of the copula in child English: The lightness of be, UCLA) is available here (apologies for the quality of the trees and the table/page alignment!). A text version of the abstract is available here.
Please e-mail me to request any papers without links!