The acquisition of the active transitive construction in English: A detailed case study.

A. L. Theakston, R. Maslen, E. V. M Lieven, M. Tomasello

    Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapter


    In this study, we test a number of predictions concerning children’s knowledge ofthe transitive Subject-Verb-Object (SVO) construction between two and threeyears on one child (Thomas) for whom we have densely collected data. The datashow that the earliest SVO utterances reflect earlier use of those same verbs,and that verbs acquired before 2;7 show an earlier move towards adult-like levelsof use in the SVO construction and in object argument complexity than lateracquired verbs. There is not a close relation with the input in the types of subjectand object referents used, nor a close adherence to Preferred ArgumentStructure (PAS) before 2;7, but both early and late acquired verbs show asimultaneous move towards PAS patterns in selection of referent type at 2;9. Theevent semantics underpinning early transitive utterances do not straightforwardlyfit prototype (high or inalienable) notions of transitivity, but rather may reflectsensitivity to animacy and intentionality in a way that mirrors the input. Weconclude that children’s knowledge of the transitive construction continues toundergo significant development between 2;0 and 3;0, reflecting the gradualabstraction and integration of the SVO and VO constructions, verb semantics,discourse pragmatics, and the interactions between these factors. These factorsare considered in the context of a prototype for the transitive construction.
    Original languageEnglish
    Title of host publicationCognitive Linguistics: The Quantitative Turn
    EditorsL.A Janda
    Place of PublicationBerlin
    Publisherde Gruyter, Walter GmbH & Co
    Publication statusPublished - 2013


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