Graded representations in the acquisition of English and German transitive constructions

Kirsten Abbot-Smith, Elena Lieven, Michael Tomasello

    Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


    English and German children aged 2 years 4 months and 4 years heard both novel and familiar verbs in sentences whose form was grammatical, but which mismatched the event they were watching (e.g., 'The frog is pushing the lion', when the lion was actually the 'agent' or 'doer' of the pushing). These verbs were then elicited in new sentences. All children mostly corrected the familiar verb (i.e., they used the agent as the grammatical subject), but there were cross-linguistic differences among the two-year-olds concerning the novel verb. When English 2-year-olds used the novel verb they mostly corrected. However, their most frequent response was to avoid using the novel verb altogether. German 2-year-olds corrected the novel verb significantly more often than their English counterparts, demonstrating more robust verb-general representations of agent- and patient-marking. These findings provide support for a 'graded representations' view of development, which proposes that grammatical representations may be simultaneously abstract but 'weak'. © 2007 Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.
    Original languageEnglish
    Pages (from-to)48-66
    Number of pages18
    JournalCognitive Development
    Issue number1
    Publication statusPublished - Jan 2008


    • English
    • German
    • Grammatical development
    • Transitive


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