Syntactic generalization with novel intransitive verbs

Melissa Kline, Katherine Demuth

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleResearchpeer-review

Abstract

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.

LanguageEnglish
Pages543-574
Number of pages32
JournalJournal of Child Language
Volume41
Issue number3
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - 2014

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Cooking
Semantics
semantics
food
Food
frequency distribution
Cues
Generalization (Psychology)
Intransitive Verbs
Syntax
flexibility
Pressure
event
discourse
Alternation
performance
Argument Structure
Intransitive
Overgeneralization
Pronoun

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 http://dx.doi.org/10.1017/S0305000913000068.

Cite this

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Syntactic generalization with novel intransitive verbs. / Kline, Melissa; Demuth, Katherine.

In: Journal of Child Language, Vol. 41, No. 3, 2014, p. 543-574.

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleResearchpeer-review

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