Syntactic bootstrapping as a mechanism for language learning

Mireille Babineau, Monica Barbir, Alex de Carvalho, Naomi Havron, Isabelle Dautriche, Anne Christophe

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review


Several mechanisms have been proposed to explain how young children solve the puzzle of mapping spoken words to their meanings. The influential syntactic bootstrapping theory postulates that children learn the meanings of words (particularly verbs) by paying attention to the syntactic structures in which they occur. In this Review, we first look at the scholarly climate and pivotal experimental findings that gave rise to syntactic bootstrapping theory, how the postulated word-learning mechanism has been investigated, and the role for this mechanism in current and future research. We discuss the prerequisites behind such a powerful learning and inference process and connect it to contemporary learning frameworks that examine how humans build and update their knowledge about the world. Syntactic bootstrapping theory has shaped the landscape of language-acquisition research, and this research has reshaped syntactic bootstrapping in turn — leading to ground-breaking insights into how children assign meanings to words and learn the complex network of language.

Original languageEnglish
JournalNature Reviews Psychology
StateAccepted/In press - 2024

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
© Springer Nature America, Inc. 2024.

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Psychology (miscellaneous)
  • Clinical Psychology
  • Developmental and Educational Psychology


Dive into the research topics of 'Syntactic bootstrapping as a mechanism for language learning'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this