Syntactic generalization with novel intransitive verbs

Melissa Kline*, Katherine Demuth

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

7 Citations (Scopus)
15 Downloads (Pure)


To understand how children develop adult argument structure, we must understand the nature of syntactic and semantic representations during development. The present studies compare the performance of children aged 2;6 on the two intransitive alternations in English: patient (Daddy is cooking the food/The food is cooking) and agent (Daddy is cooking). Children displayed abstract knowledge of both alternations, producing appropriate syntactic generalizations with novel verbs. These generalizations were adult-like in both flexibility and constraint. Rather than limiting their generalizations to lexicalized frames, children produced sentences with a variety of nouns and pronouns. They also avoided semantic overgeneralizations, producing intransitive sentences that respected the event restrictions and animacy cues. Some generated semantically appropriate agent intransitives when discourse pressure favored patient intransitives, indicating a stronger command of the first alternation. This was in line with frequency distributions in child-directed speech. These findings suggest that children have early access to representations that permit flexible argument structure generalization.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)543-574
Number of pages32
JournalJournal of Child Language
Issue number3
Publication statusPublished - May 2014

Bibliographical note

Copyright 2013 Cambridge University Press. Article originally published in Journal of child language, vol 41, iss 3, pp. 543-574. The original article can be found at


Dive into the research topics of 'Syntactic generalization with novel intransitive verbs'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this