Cross-linguistically consistent semantic and syntactic annotation of child-directed speech

Ida Szubert, Omri Abend*, Nathan Schneider, Samuel Gibbon, Louis Mahon, Sharon Goldwater, Mark Steedman

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Corpora of child speech and child-directed speech (CDS) have enabled major contributions to the study of child language acquisition, yet semantic annotation for such corpora is still scarce and lacks a uniform standard. Semantic annotation of CDS is particularly important for understanding the nature of the input children receive and developing computational models of child language acquisition. For example, under the assumption that children are able to infer meaning representations for (at least some of) the utterances they hear, the acquisition task is to learn a grammar that can map novel adult utterances onto their corresponding meaning representations, in the face of noise and distraction by other contextually possible meanings. To study this problem and to develop computational models of it, we need corpora that provide both adult utterances and their meaning representations, ideally using annotation that is consistent across a range of languages in order to facilitate cross-linguistic comparative studies. This paper proposes a methodology for constructing such corpora of CDS paired with sentential logical forms, and uses this method to create two such corpora, in English and Hebrew. The approach enforces a cross-linguistically consistent representation, building on recent advances in dependency representation and semantic parsing. Specifically, the approach involves two steps. First, we annotate the corpora using the Universal Dependencies (UD) scheme for syntactic annotation, which has been developed to apply consistently to a wide variety of domains and typologically diverse languages. Next, we further annotate these data by applying an automatic method for transducing sentential logical forms (LFs) from UD structures. The UD and LF representations have complementary strengths: UD structures are language-neutral and support consistent and reliable annotation by multiple annotators, whereas LFs are neutral as to their syntactic derivation and transparently encode semantic relations. Using this approach, we provide syntactic and semantic annotation for two corpora from CHILDES: Brown’s Adam corpus (English; we annotate ≈ 80% of its child-directed utterances), all child-directed utterances from Berman’s Hagar corpus (Hebrew). We verify the quality of the UD annotation using an inter-annotator agreement study, and manually evaluate the transduced meaning representations. We then demonstrate the utility of the compiled corpora through (1) a longitudinal corpus study of the prevalence of different syntactic and semantic phenomena in the CDS, and (2) applying an existing computational model of language acquisition to the two corpora and briefly comparing the results across languages.

Original languageAmerican English
JournalLanguage Resources and Evaluation
StateAccepted/In press - 2024

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
© The Author(s) 2024.


  • Child directed speech
  • Cross-linguistic applicability
  • Semantic annotation
  • Syntactic annotation


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