Accessible Requires Authentication Published by De Gruyter Mouton June 29, 2017

Do degree adverbs guide adjective learning crosslinguistically? A comparison of Dutch and Russian

Elena Tribushinina
From the journal Linguistics

Abstract

A fundamental question in language acquisition research is how language-specific input interacts with (pre-linguistic) universal concepts. In order to shed more light on this issue, the present paper reports the results of two experiments, set up as a modified version of Syrett, Kristen & Jeffrey Lidz. 2010. 30-month-olds use the distribution and meaning of adverbs to interpret novel adjectives. Language Learning and Development 6(4). 258–282. Their study has revealed that English-speaking 30-month-olds use degree adverbs for interpreting novel adjectives; the participants were more likely to assign a relative meaning (e.g., tallness) to a novel adjective if the adjective was modified by the booster very and to select an absolute interpretation (e.g., straightness) if the adjective was preceded the maximizer completely. The distribution in Dutch, although typologically similar to English, is obscured by phonological, morphological and semantic factors, which makes the Dutch degree adverbs heel ‘very’ and helemaal ‘completely’ less reliable cues to a language learner. In Russian, the booster očen’ ‘very’ is a reliable cue and the maximizer sovsem ‘completely’ is not, since it can be used with both absolute and negative-pole relative adjectives. The results demonstrate that children’s performance is related to the reliability of cues in their input. Russian-speaking toddlers only relied on the booster očen’, but not on the maximizer sovsem for assigning novel adjectives to semantic classes, and their Dutch-speaking peers did not show evidence of using degree adverbs for adjective learning at all. No evidence of interfering universal predispositions was found.

Acknowledgements

I am grateful to the anonymous reviewers for their detailed comments on an earlier version of this manuscript. I would like to thank all children, parents, and teachers who have made this investigation possible. Many thanks also to Tiffany Boersma for running the Dutch experiment. This paper benefitted from discussions with Pim Mak, Ayhan Aksu-Koç, Ineta Dabašinskienė, Gordana Hrzica, Marianne Kilani-Schoch, Klaus Laalo, Valentina Oblak and Galit Sassoon. This research was supported by the Netherlands Organization for Scientific Research (NWO) grant number 275-70-029.

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Published Online: 2017-6-29
Published in Print: 2017-7-26

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