Skip to main content
×
×
Home

Abstract categories or limited-scope formulae? The case of children's determiners*

  • VIRGINIA VALIAN (a1), STEPHANIE SOLT (a2) and JOHN STEWART (a2)
Abstract

Six tests of the spontaneous speech of twenty-one English-speaking children (1 ; 10 to 2 ; 8; MLUs 1·53 to 4·38) demonstrate the presence of the syntactic category determiner from the start of combinatorial speech, supporting nativist accounts. Children use multiple determiners before a noun to the same extent as their mothers (1) when only a and the or (2) all determiners are analyzed, or (3) when children and mothers are matched on determiner and noun types and determiner+noun tokens. (4) Overlap increases as opportunity for overlap increases: children use multiple determiners with more than 50% of nouns used at least twice with a determiner and with 80% of nouns used at least six times with a determiner. (5) Formulae play a limited role in low-MLU children's determiner usage, increasing with MLU. (6) Less than 1% of determiner uses are errors. Prior results showing no overlap are likely a sampling artifact.

Copyright
Corresponding author
Address for correspondence: Virginia Valian, Department of Psychology, Hunter College – CUNY, 695 Park Avenue, New York, NY, 10065, USA. e-mail: virginia.valian@hunter.cuny.edu
Footnotes
Hide All
[*]

This work was supported in part by an award from the National Science Foundation to Hunter College (SBE-0123609). Earlier versions of the results were presented at the Architectures and Mechanisms of Language Processing (AMLaP) conference in Aix-en-Provence in September 2004 and at the Boston University Conference on Language Development in November 2006. We thank A. Geogo, M. Lesnick, T. Lesnick, B. Marroquín, D. Sette and C. Theodorou for their help in hand-coding and hand-analyzing computer outputs. We thank our reviewers for their detailed, thoughtful and constructive comments, which led to new data analyses.

Footnotes
References
Hide All
Abbot-Smith, K. & Tomasello, M. (2006). Exemplar-learning and schematization in a usage-based account of syntactic acquisition. Linguistic Review 23, 275–90.
Abney, S. (1987). The English noun phrase in its sentential aspect. Unpublished PhD dissertation, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Cambridge, MA.
Abu-Akel, A., Bailey, A. L. & Thum, Y-M. (2004). Describing the acquisition of determiners in English: A growth modeling approach. Journal of Psycholinguistic Research 33, 407424.
Bohnacker, U. (1997). Determiner phrases and the debate on functional categories in early child language. Language Acquisition 6, 4990.
Eisenbeiss, S. (2000). The acquisition of the DP in German child language. In Friedeman, M.-A. & Rizzi, L. (eds) Acquisition of syntax. Issues in comparative developmental linguistics, 2762. Harlow: Longman.
Gelman, S. A. & Taylor, J. (1984). How two-year-old children interpret proper and common names for unfamiliar objects. Child Development 55, 1535–40.
Gerken, L. A., Landau, B. & Remez, R. E. (1990). Function morphemes in young children's speech perception and production. Developmental Psychology 26, 204216.
Goldberg, A. E. (1995). Constructions: A construction grammar approach to argument structure. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.
Höhle, B., Weissenborn, J., Kiefer, D., Schulz, A. & Schmitz, M. (2004). Functional elements in infants' speech processing: The role of determiners in the syntactic categorization of lexical elements. Infancy 5, 341–53.
Ihns, M. & Leonard, L. (1988). Syntactic categories in early child language: Some additional data. Journal of Child Language 15, 673–78.
Katz, N., Baker, E. & Macnamara, J. (1974). What's in a name? A study of how children learn common and proper names. Child Development 45, 469–73.
Kupisch, T. (2007). Testing the effects of frequency on the rate of learning: Determiner use in early French, German and Italian. In Gülzow, I. & Gagarina, N. (eds) Proceedings of the workshop on input frequencies in acquisition: Defining the limits of frequency as an explanatory concept, 83113. Berlin: Mouton de Gruyter: Studies on Language Acquisition (SOLA) 32.
MacWhinney, B. (1991). The CHILDES project: Tools for analyzing talk. Hillsdale, NJ: Erlbaum.
Morgan, J. & Demuth, K. (eds) (1996). Signal to syntax: Bootstrapping from speech to grammar in early acquisition. Mahwah, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates.
Murphy, G. L. (2004). The big book of concepts. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.
Pine, J. M. & Lieven, E. V. M. (1997). Slot and frame patterns and the development of the determiner category. Applied Psycholinguistics 18, 123–38.
Pine, J. M. & Martindale, H. (1996). Syntactic categories in the speech of young children: The case of the determiner. Journal of Child Language 23, 369–95.
Radford, A. (1990). The syntax of nominal arguments in early child English. Language Acquisition 1, 195223.
Theakston, A. L., Lieven, E. V. M., Pine, J. M. & Rowland, C. F. (2001). The role of performance limitations in the acquisition of verb–argument structure: An alternate account. Journal of Child Language 28, 127–52.
Tomasello, M. (2000). Do young children have adult syntactic competence? Cognition 74, 209253.
Tomasello, M. (2003). Constructing a language: A usage-based theory of language acquisition. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.
Tomasello, M. & Stahl, D. (2004). Sampling children's spontaneous speech: How much is enough? Journal of Child Language 31, 101121.
Valian, V. (1986). Syntactic categories in the speech of young children. Developmental Psychology 22, 562–79.
Valian, V. (1991). Syntactic subjects in the early speech of American and Italian children. Cognition 40, 2181.
Waxman, S. R. & Booth, A. E. (2001). Seeing pink elephants: Fourteen-month-olds' interpretations of novel nouns and adjectives. Cognitive Psychology 43, 217–42.
Zamparelli, R. (2000). Layers in the determiner phrase. New York: Garland.
Recommend this journal

Email your librarian or administrator to recommend adding this journal to your organisation's collection.

Journal of Child Language
  • ISSN: 0305-0009
  • EISSN: 1469-7602
  • URL: /core/journals/journal-of-child-language
Please enter your name
Please enter a valid email address
Who would you like to send this to? *
×

Metrics

Altmetric attention score

Full text views

Total number of HTML views: 8
Total number of PDF views: 123 *
Loading metrics...

Abstract views

Total abstract views: 411 *
Loading metrics...

* Views captured on Cambridge Core between September 2016 - 23rd September 2018. This data will be updated every 24 hours.