Acquisition of syntax and semantics

Stephen Crain*, Rosalind Thornton

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingEntry for encyclopedia/dictionary/reference book

16 Citations (Scopus)


This chapter discusses reviews the results from experimental investigations of child language. Chomsky (1971) maintained that children would never adopt structure-independent hypotheses, even if the data available to children were consistent with both structure-independent and structure-dependent rules. In other words, children would not be expected to make certain kinds of mistakes in forming Yes/No questions at any stage in language development. In an elicited production study, Crain and Nakayama (1987) evoked Yes/No questions from 30, 3 to 5year-old children, to see if they ever made such mistakes. Although children made certain kinds of errors, they never produced questions that are consistent with structure-independent rules. It has frequently been claimed by advocates of the experience-dependent approach that nativists assume that "no evidence exists that would enable a three-year-old to unlearn" mistaken structure-independent rules, if children were to initially adopt such rules. But no reasonable nativist would endorse such a strong claim about all possible evidence.

Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationHandbook of Psycholinguistics, Second Edition
EditorsMatthew J. Traxler, Morton A. Gernsbacher
Place of PublicationAmsterdam ; Boston
Number of pages38
ISBN (Print)9780123693747
Publication statusPublished - 2006


Cite this

Crain, S., & Thornton, R. (2006). Acquisition of syntax and semantics. In M. J. Traxler, & M. A. Gernsbacher (Eds.), Handbook of Psycholinguistics, Second Edition (pp. 1073-1110). Amsterdam ; Boston: Elsevier.