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An Interdisciplinary Journal of the Language Sciences

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Volume 50, Issue 2 (Mar 2012)


The acquisition of scalar structures: Production of adjectives and degree markers by Dutch-speaking children and their caregivers

Elena Tribushinina,
  • Corresponding author
  • Utrecht University
  • Email:
/ Steven Gillis,
  • Corresponding author
  • University of Antwerp
Published Online: 2012-04-28 | DOI: https://doi.org/10.1515/ling-2012-0009


This study seeks to establish whether and at what age children's language production reflects relevant semantic differences between nongradable adjectives, on the one hand, and various classes of gradable adjectives, on the other hand. Quantitative and qualitative analyses of adjectives in spontaneous speech samples from Dutch-speaking children aged 2 to 7 and their caregivers show that children reveal some sensitivity to scalar structures already at age 2. From the outset of adjective production, toddlers use degree markers (comparatives, superlatives, degree adverbs) to modify only gradable, but not nongradable adjectives. By age 4, the proportions of degree markers within the class of gradable adjectives are clearly contingent on the type of scalar structure associated with an adjective. The patterns in child speech reflect frequencies in child-directed speech. However, the frequency of context-dependent adjectives in child speech across all age groups is lower than predicted by the input. Although very few errors were attested in the domain of degree modification, the errors seem to persist until age 6. At this age, the proportion of degree adverbs in child speech reaches the adult level. The results are consonant with the idea that children construe scales through exposure to linguistic input, rather than on the basis of pre-linguistic conceptual distinctions.

About the article

Received: 2010-08-31

Revised: 2011-04-04

Published Online: 2012-04-28

Published in Print: 2012-03-22

Citation Information: , ISSN (Online) 1613-396X, ISSN (Print) 0024-3949, DOI: https://doi.org/10.1515/ling-2012-0009. Export Citation

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Elena Tribushinina, Huub van den Bergh, Dorit Ravid, Ayhan Aksu-Koç, Marianne Kilani-Schoch, Katharina Korecky-Kröll, Iris Leibovitch-Cohen, Sabine Laaha, Bracha Nir, Wolfgang U. Dressler, and Steven Gillis
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