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Effects of focus and definiteness on children's word order: evidence from German five-year-olds' reproductions of double object constructions*

  • BARBARA HÖHLE (a1), ROBIN HÖRNIG (a1), THOMAS WESKOTT (a1), SELENE KNAUF (a1) and AGNES KRÜGER (a1)...

Abstract

Two experiments tested how faithfully German children aged 4 ;5  to 5 ;6  reproduce ditransitive sentences that are unmarked or marked with respect to word order and focus (Exp1) or definiteness (Exp2). Adopting an optimality theory (OT) approach, it is assumed that in the German adult grammar word order is ranked lower than focus and definiteness. Faithfulness of children's reproductions decreased as markedness of inputs increased; unmarked structures were reproduced most faithfully and unfaithful outputs had most often an unmarked form. Consistent with the OT proposal, children were more tolerant against inputs marked for word order than for focus; in conflict with the proposal, children were less tolerant against inputs marked for word order than for definiteness. Our results suggest that the linearization of objects in German double object constructions is affected by focus and definiteness, but that prosodic principles may have an impact on the position of a focused constituent.

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Copyright

The online version of this article is published within an Open Access environment subject to the conditions of the Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike licence . The written permission of Cambridge University Press must be obtained for commercial re-use.

Corresponding author

Address for correspondence: Barbara Höhle, University of Potsdam – Linguistics Department, Karl-Liebknechstr. 24–25 Potsdam 14755, Germany. e-mail: hoehle@uni-potsdam.de

Footnotes

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[*]

This research was funded by the DFG (German Science Foundation) by a grant to Barbara Höhle as part of the SFB 632 Information Structure: The linguistic means for structuring utterances, sentences and texts. We thank all colleagues from the SFB – especially Frauke Berger and Antje Sauermann – for their support. Special thanks go to the children and their parents for their participation in the study.

Footnotes

References

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Effects of focus and definiteness on children's word order: evidence from German five-year-olds' reproductions of double object constructions*

  • BARBARA HÖHLE (a1), ROBIN HÖRNIG (a1), THOMAS WESKOTT (a1), SELENE KNAUF (a1) and AGNES KRÜGER (a1)...

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