Published online by Cambridge University Press: 04 August 2010
Editors' note. Bowerman's chapter represents a search through the semantic, cognitive and pragmatic prerequisites for conditionals to discover why they appear late in a child's grammar, relative to other complex sentence types. Drawing on crosslinguistic acquisition data from English, Finnish, Italian, Polish, and Turkish, her exploration highlights the basic components of conditionals and the interaction between them. It also suggests some possible implications for universal grammar. This paper complements Harris's treatment of the components of the conditional system in Romance, as well as Reilly's on the acquisition of temporals and conditionals.
This chapter is about the initial flowering of conditionals, if-(then) constructions, in children's spontaneous speech. It is motivated by two major theoretical interests. The first and most immediate is to understand the acquisition process itself. Conditionals are conceptually, and in many languages morphosyntactically, complex. What aspects of cognitive and grammatical development are implicated in their acquisition? Does learning take place in the context of particular interactions with other speakers? Where do conditionals fit in with the acquisition of other complex sentences? What are the semantic, syntactic and pragmatic properties of the first conditionals?
Underlying this first interest is a second, more strictly linguistic one. Research of recent years has found increasing evidence that natural languages are constrained in certain ways. The source of these constraints is not yet clearly understood, but it is widely assumed that some of them derive ultimately from properties of children's capacity for language acquisition.