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The dynamics of syntax acquisition: facilitation between syntactic structures*

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  16 July 2010

Department of Language and Linguistic Science, University of York
Department of Economics, Hebrew University of Jerusalem


This paper sets out to show how facilitation between different clause structures operates over time in syntax acquisition. The phenomenon of facilitation within given structures has been widely documented, yet inter-structure facilitation has rarely been reported so far. Our findings are based on the naturalistic production corpora of six toddlers learning Hebrew as their first language. We use regression analysis, a method that has not been used to study this phenomenon. We find that the proportion of errors among the earliest produced clauses in a structure is related to the degree of acceleration of that structure's learning curve; that with the accretion of structures the proportion of errors among the first clauses of new structures declines, as does the acceleration of their learning curves. We interpret our findings as showing that learning new syntactic structures is made easier, or facilitated, by previously acquired ones.

Copyright © Cambridge University Press 2010

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