Young Children’s Restriction of Linguistic Generalizations

23 March 2017

Ryan Blything, University of Essex

Language and Linguistics, Department of

Time: 16:00
Venue: 1N1.4.1, Colchester Campus
Ryan Blything

 A crucial component of child language acquisition is successful generalization. First, a speaker must acquire abstract knowledge of how a particular linguistic-structure conveys meaning, and use this knowledge to generalize the structure to new lexical-items. For example, a speaker can use abstract knowledge of a SUBJECT-VERB-OBJECT structure to produce a sentence such as The man rolled the ball, even if the verb roll has never been encountered in this structure before. Second, a learner must appropriately restrict ‘overgeneralizations’ whereby a structure is used with an unsuitable verb (e.g. *The man fell the boy). The most prominent theories regarding restriction of overgeneralizations are based on frequency of use and (semantic, phonological or pragmatic) compatibility between the item and construction. Since developmental evidence for these accounts is mostly limited to the judgment paradigm, which is unsuitable for testing children aged 5 and under, the aim of my research has been to examine whether these restriction mechanisms are used by children as young as 3 or 4 – whose generalization mechanisms are at an earlier stage of development. This has been achieved by employing research paradigms that are more suitable for testing younger children, and the research has focused on the domains of English past-tense (e.g. *drived), verbal un- prefixation (e.g., *unbuild) and transitive-causative overgeneralization errors (e.g., *The man fell the boy).

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