Article published in:Cognitive and Empirical Pragmatics: Issues and perspectives
Edited by Gregory Bochner, Philippe De Brabanter, Mikhail Kissine and Daniela Rossi
[Belgian Journal of Linguistics 25] 2011
► pp. 80–103
Piecemeal acquisition of boundedness
Degree modifiers of adjectives in Dutch child language
Recent semantic studies show that adjectives differ in terms of the scalar structures associated with them, which has implications for patterns of degree modification. For example, relative adjectives in Dutch are associated with unbounded (open) scales and are, therefore, incompatible with maximizing adverbs (e.g. #helemaal groot ‘completely big’, #helemaal klein ‘completely small’). This paper tests the hypothesis that children acquire the relevant distinctions in the domain of boundedness in a piecemeal fashion by storing ready-made modifier-adjective pairings from the input and later generalizing over them. The results of the longitudinal corpus study of four degree adverbs in the spontaneous speech of nine children acquiring Netherlandic Dutch are consistent with the idea that language learners start by reproducing target-like modifier-adjective combinations stored as prefabs from the input. Once a critical mass of such adverb-adjective pairings has been stored, children make generalizations over the stored instances and proceed to productive use. This phase is marked by over-generalization errors that are attested, on average, six months after the emergence of a degree adverb. Most of the over-generalization errors involved combining a degree adverb with an adjective of an incompatible scalar structure. It is concluded that the acquisition of boundedness has a more protracted time course than has been hitherto assumed on the basis of comprehension experiments.
Published online: 05 December 2011