The acquisition of questions with long distance dependencies

E. Dabrowska, C. Rowland, A. L. Theakston

    Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapter


    A number of researchers have claimed that questions and other constructionswith long distance dependencies (LDDs) are acquired relatively early, by age 4 or even earlier, in spite of their complexity. Analysis of LDD questions in the input available to children suggests that they are extremely stereotypical, raising the possibility that children learn lexically specific templates such as WH do you think S-GAP? rather than general rules of the kind postulated in traditional linguistic accounts of this construction. We describe three elicited imitation experiments with children aged from 4;6 to 6;9 and adult controls. Participants were asked to repeat prototypical questions (i.e., questions which match the hypothesised template), unprototypical questions (which depart from it in several respects) and declarative counterparts of both types of interrogative sentences. Thechildren performed significantly better on the prototypical variants of both constructions, even when both variants contained exactly the same lexical material, while adults showed prototypicality e¤ects for LDD questions only. These results suggest that a general declarative complementation construction emerges quite late in development (after age 6), and that even adults rely on lexically specific templates for LDD questions.
    Original languageEnglish
    Title of host publicationCognitive Linguistics: The Quantitative Turn
    EditorsL Janda
    Place of PublicationBerlin
    Publisherde Gruyter, Walter GmbH & Co
    Publication statusPublished - 2013


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