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Usage-based vs. rule-based learning: the acquisition of word order in wh-questions in English and Norwegian

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  09 March 2009

MARIT WESTERGAARD*
Affiliation:
University of Tromsø/CASTL
*
[*]Address for correspondence: University of Tromsø/CASTL, 9037 Tromsø, Norway. e-mail: marit.westergaard@hum.uit.no

Abstract

This paper discusses different approaches to language acquisition in relation to children's acquisition of word order in wh-questions in English and Norwegian. While generative models assert that children set major word order parameters and thus acquire a rule of subject–auxiliary inversion or generalized verb second (V2) at an early stage, some constructivist work argues that English-speaking children are simply reproducing frequent wh-word+auxiliary combinations in the input. The paper questions both approaches, re-evaluates some previous work, and provides some further data, concluding that the acquisition of wh-questions must be the result of a rule-based process. Based on variation in adult grammars, a cue-based model to language acquisition is presented, according to which children are sensitive to minor cues in the input, called micro-cues. V2 is not considered to be one major parameter, but several smaller-scale cues, which are responsible for children's lack of syntactic (over-)generalization in the acquisition process.

Type
Articles
Copyright
Copyright © 2009 Cambridge University Press

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