A large part of our work seeks to understand how very young children acquire the words and structures of their native language. We study children from a variety of language backgrounds (e.g., English, Greek, Turkish and Korean) using offline (act-out, truth value judgment, and elicited imitation/production tasks) and online (eye tracking) methodologies. We are particularly interested in cross-linguistic semantic development in the domains of motion, space, quantity, number, events, modality, epistemic attitudes and evidentiality. Our work has identified both shared (perhaps universal) and language-specific aspects of the mechanisms explaining how children acquire semantic distinctions.
Grigoroglou, M., & Papafragou, A. (2018). Spatial terms. In C. Cummins and Katsos (Eds.),
Handbook of Experimental Semantics and Pragmatics. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
Ünal, E., & Papafragou, A. (2016). Production-Comprehension asymmetries and the acquisition
of evidential morphology. Journal of Memory and Language, 89, 179-199.
Skordos, D., & Papafragou, A. (2014). Lexical, syntactic, and semantic-geometric factors in the
acquisition of motion predicates. Developmental Psychology, 50, 1985-1998.
Papafragou, A., & Grigoroglou, M. (2019). The role of conceptualization in language production:
Evidence from event encoding. Language, Cognition and Neuroscience, Special issue on
Ünal, E., & Papafragou, A. (2018). Evidentials, information sources and cognition. In A. Aikhenvald
(Ed.), The Oxford Handbook of Evidentiality. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
Gleitman, L. & Papafragou, A. (2016). New perspectives on language and thought. In K. Holyoak
and R. Morrison (Eds.), Cambridge Handbook of Thinking and Reasoning. New York:
Cambridge University Press.
Language & Thought
A second direction in our work focuses on whether and how language interacts with human perceptual/cognitive systems. To address this question, we conduct detailed comparisons of linguistic and perceptual/conceptual representations of objects, space, motion, events and theory of mind (especially origins-of-knowledge thinking) in speakers of different languages (including English, Greek, German, Turkish, and Tseltal Mayan). Many of our studies reveal that nonlinguistic representations recruited in memory or categorization are independent of linguistic encoding preferences. Our studies also reveal a robust, on-line involvement of language in certain cognitive tasks in both children and adults.
Semantics & Pragmatics
A separate strand of our work looks at children's and adults’ ability to combine semantic and pragmatic information during language processing. We know that adults are able to rapidly integrate semantic content, discourse context and visual cues, and draw conversational inferences that lie beyond the linguistic meaning of the utterance. Our work explores the nature of the mechanisms that underlie these computations and asks how the ability to integrate lexical-semantic and contextual-pragmatic information develops in children. We study a variety of meaning phenomena including reference, scalar implicatures, and indirect requests, and connect our findings to major linguistic theories at the semantics-pragmatics interface. We also ask how pragmatics relates to theory of mind and other cognitive capacities. Our work suggests that children and adults share basic underlying pragmatic mechanisms for utterance interpretation but differ in the degree to which they can use different sources of information to reconstruct the speaker’s communicative intent.
Grigoroglou, M., & Papafragou, A. (2018). Acquisition of Pragmatics. In R. Clark and M. Aronoff
(Eds.), Oxford Research Encyclopedia of Linguistics. Online edition: Oxford University Press.
Papafragou, A. & Skordos, D. (2016). Scalar Implicature. In J. Lidz, W. Snyder and J. Pater (Eds.),
The Oxford Handbook of Developmental Linguistics, 611-629. Oxford: Oxford University