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Distinguished Scholar Lecture: Words, Sentences, and Conversations: How Children Use Sentence and Discourse Structure to Learn About Words
Macalester College, John B. Davis Lecture Hall in the Ruth Stricker Dayton Campus Center
62 Macalester Street
St. Paul, MN 55105

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Tuesday, April 10, 2018, 5:30 PM - 7:00 PM CDT
Category: Distinguished Scholar Lectures

Words, Sentences, and Conversations: How Children Use Sentence and Discourse Structure to Learn About Words

Tuesday, April 10, 2018

Registration: 5:00 - 5:30 p.m.
Program: 5:30 - 7:00 p.m.

The Minnesota Psychological Association cosponsors Distinguished Scholar Lectures with Macalester College's Psychology Department

About the Program

In just a few years, children learn thousands of words. Traditional accounts assume that children learn word meanings largely by linking each word to the objects or events it accompanies. The research conducted by Dr. Fisher and her suggests that children use at least two other sources of information to learn the meanings of words. One source is syntax. From an early age, children begin to learn the syntactic rules that govern how words in their native language can be combined. Their research shows that syntax guides early word learning. When learning verbs in particular, children begin with a bias to map distinct nouns in sentences onto distinct participant-roles in events; as a result, toddlers conclude that “He’s blicking him” means something different from “He’s blicking.” The second source of information is discourse continuity. Young children expect sentences in a conversation to be meaningfully related. The current work shows that this expectation allows children to use the conversational context to recover missing parts of sentences. For example, toddlers use the context question “What’s Mom doing?” to make sense of a partial answer, “Blicking the baby!” In this way, partial knowledge of sentence structure, and of the structure of conversation, as well as the objects and events in view, guide early word-learning.

This session qualifies for 1.5 continuing education credits. You must attend the full 1.5-hour program to get continuing education credit for the event.

Participants will be able to:

  1. Describe various processes that guide children’s word-learning.
  2. Explain how children use syntactic rules to learn the meaning of different word combinations. 
  3. Discuss how conversational context influences children’s understanding of partial information.

About the Presenter:

Cynthia Fisher, Ph.D., is a Professor of Psychology and Linguistics at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. She is also a faculty member of the Illinois Language and Literacy Initiative at the Beckman Institute, a center for interdisciplinary research at the University. She received her Ph.D. in Psychology from the University of Pennsylvania.

Professor Fisher has received a number of awards, including The American Association of University Women Fellowship, the Arnold O. Beckman Research Award, and the Shannon Director’s Award from the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development. She was also a visiting scholar at the Max Planck Institute for Psycholinguistics in the Netherlands. Her work has been funded by the National Science Foundation and the National Institutes of Health.

The Minnesota Psychological Association is approved by the American Psychological Association to sponsor continuing education for psychologists. The Minnesota Psychological Association maintains responsibility for this program and its content.

To Register:

Register Online

Click here for a PDF Registration Form and Flyer

Walk-up registrations are welcome the day of, but pre-registration is preferred.

Registration Type Pricing
No CE Credit Free
Professional Seeking CE Certificate $20
Student Seeking CE Certificate $5


Refund/Cancellation Policy: A 100% refund will be made if the event is cancelled. Refunds, less a $5 handling fee, will be given if a written cancellation is received at least two working days before the scheduled program begins. Transfer of fee to another program is granted if written cancellation notice is received at least one day before the program. No refund or transfer is given the day of the program.

Contact: [email protected] or (952)928-4657

Diversity Statement

The Minnesota Psychological Association actively encourages the participation of all psychologists regardless of age, creed, race, ethnic background, gender, socio-economic status, region of residence, physical or mental status, political beliefs, religious or spiritual affiliation, and sexual or affectional orientation.Although we are an organization of individuals from diverse cultures and backgrounds, the Minnesota Psychological Association also recognizes our core unifying identities as Psychologists who practice in America. We also recognize that we may hold unintentional attitudes and beliefs that influence our perceptions of and interactions with others. Within this context of unity and self-exploration, we are committed to increasing our sensitivity to all aspects of diversity as well as our knowledge and appreciation of the unique qualities of different cultures and backgrounds.We aspire to becoming alert to aspects of diversity, previously unseen or unacknowledged in our culture. In this spirit, we are committed to collaborating with multicultural groups to combat racism and other forms of prejudice as we seek to promote diversity in our society. To this end, we are dedicated to increasing our multicultural competencies and effectiveness as educators, researchers, administrators, policy makers, and practitioners.