Misha Becker and Susannah Kirby
This chapter provides an overview of the literature on children’s acquisition of constructions involving A(rgument)-movement: passive, unaccusative verbs, raising-to-subject, and raising-to-object. Considering A-movement within a derivational theoretical framework (GB/Minimalism), we provide some historical and theoretical context for treating these constructions under the same operation. In all cases, the surface position of an NP is incongruous with its syntactic configuration for receiving its thematic role. For each construction we discuss empirical evidence concerning children’s knowledge of the construction (including, where available, cross-linguistic data), and the major theoretical debates that have arisen around them, notably Maturation. We suggest that variability in experimental outcomes, both within and across constructions, can be linked to methodological choices and not likely to lack of linguistic knowledge.
The concepts of possession and ownership are among the first to be expressed by children when they start acquiring language. This chapter starts with an overview of the properties of possession cross-linguistically followed by a review of the literature on the acquisition of possession in five languages—English, German, Greek, Hebrew, and Japanese. The studies on the acquisition of possession are discussed in relation to learnability issues and avenues are identified for future research on the acquisition of possession.
In this chapter the acquisition of pronouns and reflexives is discussed. It reviews several accounts of the so-called Delay of Principle B Effect, the absence of this effect in some languages, and the structural factors that influence its appearance in child language. It also discusses children’s alledged target-like performance on reflexives in several languages with different type of reflexives. The chapter concludes that provided a balanced experimental design is used, the experimental results point at early mastery of Principle A and B, and that children’s difficulties with the interpretation of pronouns and reflexives are to be found at the interfaces between syntax and discourse or semantics, and may be due to limited (syntactic) processing resources.
Sonja Eisenbeiss, Bhuvana Narasimhan, and Maria Voeikova
Case is one of the most heterogeneous nominal morphological categories: the number of case forms in morphological paradigms, the syntactic and semantic functions of case, and the set of declension classes differ even in typologically similar languages. Hence, the acquisition of case presents the child with a major learning challenge. This article presents empirical studies and theoretical perspectives on case acquisition in children, focusing on generative, natural morphology, cognitive-functional, and usage-based approaches. The empirical focus is on the acquisition of accusative, ergative, and split case systems. The article also explores productivity in children's early case forms, the role of nature or nurture in the acquisition of case, form-meaning mappings in the acquisition of case, and the time course of case development.
This chapter looks at the acquisition of comparatives from formal, theoretical, and cross-linguistic perspectives. It begins by reviewing children’s aberrations from adults in the form of the comparative constructions that they produce through at least age 6, and then turns to theoretical accounts of comparatives and degree constructions across a range of languages to pinpoint specific areas in the construction of a comparative in which children’s representations and interpretations may go astray, or converge with adults. A range of studies and methodologies used over the years are reviewed in order to present a clear picture of what we currently know about children’s developing understanding of comparison and comparatives, and to clear a path for future research in this area.
Jill de Villiers and Tom Roeper
The development of complementation engages high-level parametric variation, a variety of separate modules, and very specific lexical variation across the possible grammars in UG. In particular, finiteness, argument structure, control, empty categories, and recursion all present separate challenges and create an intricate grammatical acquisition path for any child. The essential question is: how does the CP node expand from small clauses to infinitives to tensed clauses? The next question is: how does the grammar interface with cognition, as complements express propositional attitudes, and false beliefs? We survey empirical research that documents descriptive work on the growth of complementation and theoretical research addressed to linking rules and movement rules. We survey both what is known and new questions that need to be investigated.
Eve V. Clark
Children acquire some derived word forms early, initially as unanalyzed wholes. But from about age 2 onwards, they start to make use of attested derived word-form patterns when they construct new words to convey specific meanings. These spontaneous coinages offer one source of evidence for children’s identification of affixes and their meanings. Two further sources are elicited interpretations of novel words never heard before, and elicited coinages to express novel meanings. All three have been studied extensively for a number of languages. Children’s acquisition of derived word-forms depends on their ability to identify core stems and affixes, on the semantic transparency of the affixes (known meanings), and on productivity (forms well attested in adult speech). Order of acquisition for specific derivational meanings depends largely on adult productivity, and this varies with language typology.
The chapter illustrates variation associated with ergative alignment and properties of ergative languages that might impact on acquisition of the system. Language input, the social context and developmental patterns are also discussed, as are criteria for determining when a system has been acquired. Examples provided represent different language families and geographic areas. Also included are more detailed examples: for Kaluli, which has a split ergative system, dependent on word order and pragmatic factors; for Arctic Quebec Inuktitut which employs detransitivisation processes to change the role of the arguments of bivalent verbs; and for Warlpiri which has frequent ellipsis of core arguments, so reducing the frequency of ergative marking in the input. The data illustrate that split morphological systems and variable use of ergative marking do not seem to be problematic overall. By the age of 2.5 or 3 years, children show knowledge of the system.
Keiko Murasugi and Koji Sugisaki
This article investigates a number of issues concerning parameter setting and developmental factors in language acquisition. It is mainly limited to studies on the acquisition of syntax that provide intriguing empirical findings. The studies of Japanese acquisition confirm the early emergence of Universal Grammar principles, but the syntactic phenomena that are taken up to demonstrate this point are quite different from those in the acquisition of English, which makes these studies quite intriguing from the viewpoint of acquisition theory. The article also indicates that the time course of child language acquisition is a potentially rich source of evidence concerning the parameters of variation permitted by human language. It is hoped that the connection between acquisitional investigations and theoretical studies of the Japanese language will be further tightened in the future.
Bill Forshaw, Lucinda Davidson, Barbara Kelly, Rachel Nordlinger, Gillian Wigglesworth, and Joe Blythe
This chapter reports on initial findings of an ongoing large-scale research project into the acquisition of Murrinhpatha, a polysynthetic language of the Daly River region of the Northern Territory of Australia with complex morphology. The complex verbal structures in Murrinhpatha, which can contain a large number of morphemes and bipartite stem morphology discontinuously distributed throughout the verbal template, raise a multitude of questions for acquisition. In this chapter we focus particularly on the acquisition of the complex predicate system in the verb, and the acquisition of subject-marking categories and tense/aspect/mood. Our findings are based on the language development of five Murrinhpatha acquiring children aged from 2;7–4;11 years.