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Cognitive Linguistics

Editor-in-Chief: Divjak, Dagmar

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Volume 20, Issue 3


The acquisition of questions with long-distance dependencies

Ewa Dąbrowska / Caroline Rowland / Anna Theakston
Published Online: 2009-08-14 | DOI: https://doi.org/10.1515/COGL.2009.025


A number of researchers have claimed that questions and other constructions with 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. The children 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.

Keywords:: language acquisition; long-distance dependencies; questions; complementation; usage-based approaches

About the article

Correspondence address: Ewa Dąbrowska, School of English Literature, Language and Linguistics, University of Sheffield, Sheffield, S10 2TN, UK, e-mail: 〈

Correspondence address: Caroline Rowland, School of Psychology, University of Liverpool, Liverpool, L69 7ZA, UK, e-mail: 〈

Correspondence address: Anna Theakston, School of Psychological Sciences, University of Manchester, M13 9PL, UK, 〈

Received: 2008-01-28

Revised: 2008-07-14

Published Online: 2009-08-14

Published in Print: 2009-08-01

Citation Information: Cognitive Linguistics, Volume 20, Issue 3, Pages 571–597, ISSN (Online) 1613-3641, ISSN (Print) 0936-5907, DOI: https://doi.org/10.1515/COGL.2009.025.

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