The acquisition of questions with long-distance dependencies

Ewa Dąbrowska 1 , Caroline Rowland 2 ,  and Anna Theakston 3
  • 1 University of Sheffield
  • 2 University of Liverpool
  • 3 University of Manchester

Abstract

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.

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Cognitive Linguistics presents a forum for linguistic research of all kinds on the interaction between language and cognition. The journal focuses on language as an instrument for organizing, processing and conveying information. It is devoted to high-quality research on topics such as the structural characteristics of natural language categorization and the functional principles of linguistic organization.

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