Misha Becker

photo: Chris Carmichael

Misha Becker

Associate Professor and Director of Undergraduate Studies

Linguistics Department
University of North Carolina
301 Smith Building, CB#3155
Chapel Hill, NC 27599-3155
919-962-1192 (Linguistics office)

email: combine my first initial and my last name at email.unc.edu

Research Interests Lab Courses CV Recent Publications

Research Interests

My background is in syntactic theory and the acquisition of syntax, both morphosyntax and argument structure, in children (first language). I'm also interested in language processing, computational modeling, learnability theory, as well as visual cognition and spatial representation.

My current research is about 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), unaccusative verbs (arrive) and passives. My main question is how children distinguish these predicates from control verbs (want or claim), control adjectives (eager), unergative verbs (laugh) and actives. 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 am currently pursuing 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.

I have just completed a book about how NP (in)animacy helps children acquire displacing predicates. CUP book

In addition, I have on-going collaborative projects with:

  • 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;
  • Masako Hirotani (School of Linguistics and Language Studies and Institute of Cognitive Science, Carleton University) on ERP studies of children's grammaticality judgments

In the past my work focused more on the acquisition of morphosyntax and aspect. My dissertation is on the development of the copula (be) in English (available through the IRCS Technical Reports series; tech report #00-05 under 2000 tech reports). A text version of the abstract is available here. (If the link to IRCS does not work, please send me an e-mail.)


Lab

Information about the UNC Language Development Lab, including our current and recent studies.


Selected Recent Publications

Books

Journal Articles and Conference Proceedings

  • to appear: "Animacy and the Acquisition of Tough-Adjectives" Language Acquisition
  • 2013 (with Bruno Estigarribia): "Harder Words: Learning Abstract Verbs with Opaque Syntax" Language Learning and Development, vol. 9: 211-244.
  • 2012 (with Bruno Estigarribia and Duna Gylfadottir): "Tough-Adjectives are Easy to Learn" in Supplemental Proceedings of BUCLD 36. (link)
  • 2011 (with W. Garrett Mitchener): "A Computational Model of Learning the Raising-Control Distinction" in Research on Language and Computation, vol. 8, pp. 169-207. (pdf)
  • 2011 (with Bruno Estigarribia): "Drawing Inferences about Novel Raising and Control Verbs" in Proceedings of GALANA 4, Cascadilla Proceedings Project. (pdf)
  • 2009: "The Role of NP Animacy and Expletives in Verb Learning," Language Acquisition, vol. 16, pp. 283-296. preprint version
  • 2007: "Animacy, Expletives, and the Learning of the Raising-Control Distinction", Proceedings of GALANA 2.
  • 2006: "There Began to be a Learnability Puzzle", Linguistic Inquiry, vol. 37:3, pp. 441-456. (pdf)
  • 2005: "Learning Verbs Without Arguments: The Case of Raising Verbs", Journal of Psycholinguistic Research, vol. 34:2, p. 165-191. (pdf)
  • 2004: "Copula Omission is a Grammatical Reflex", Language Acquisition, vol. 12:2, pp. 157-167. (pdf)
  • 2004: "Learning Verbs that Lack Argument Structure: The Case of Raising Verbs," in Proceedings of GALA 2003, edited by Jacqueline van Kampen and Sergio Baauw. (Word)
  • 2002: "Seem, and Other Hazards of the Lexicon", in Proceedings of CLS38 (ed. by M. Andronis, E. Debenport, A. Pycha & K. Yoshimura, pp. 79-90). (Word)
  • 2002: "Is Isn't Be", presented at the Workshop on Microvariation in the Syntax of Auxiliaries in Leuven, August 2001 (in Lingua, vol. 114)). (pdf)
  • 2002: "The Development of the Copula in Child English: The Lightness of Be" in Annual Review of Language Acquisition, vol. 2.
Last modified: April 2014