The acquisition of polysynthetic languages

Barbara Kelly, Gillian Wigglesworth, Rachel Nordlinger*, Joseph Blythe

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

23 Citations (Scopus)


One of the major challenges in acquiring a language is being able to use morphology as an adult would, and thus, a considerable amount of acquisition research has focused on morphological production and comprehension. Most of this research, however, has focused on the acquisition of morphology in isolating languages, or languages (such as English) with limited inflectional morphology. The nature of the learning task is different, and potentially more challenging, when the child is learning a polysynthetic language - a language in which words are highly morphologically complex, expressing in a single word what in English takes a multi-word clause. To date, there has been no cross-linguistic survey of how children approach this puzzle and learn polysynthetic languages. This paper aims to provide such a survey, including a discussion of some of the general findings in the literature regarding the acquisition of polysynthetic systems.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)51-64
Number of pages14
JournalLanguage and Linguistics Compass
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - 25 Feb 2014
Externally publishedYes


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