Chapter published in:Current Perspectives on Child Language Acquisition: How children use their environment to learn
Edited by Caroline F. Rowland, Anna L. Theakston, Ben Ambridge and Katherine E. Twomey
[Trends in Language Acquisition Research 27] 2020
► pp. 221–246
Understanding the cross-linguistic pattern of verb-marking error in typically developing children and children with Developmental Language Disorder
Why the input matters
Verb-marking errors such as ‘*That go there’ and ‘*We make this yesterday’ are a characteristic feature of children’s early language. In this chapter, we review work on the cross-linguistic pattern of verb-marking error that suggests that these errors reflect the incorrect use of non-finite forms in finite contexts (often referred to as ‘Optional Infinitive (OI) errors’). The vast majority of this research has been conducted within the generativist tradition and has assumed that OI errors reflect an underlying maturational difference between the child and the adult grammar. However, we show that a detailed analysis of the cross-linguistic data reveals patterns that are difficult to explain in these terms, and can be more readily explained under the assumption that OI errors are learned directly from the input as a result of weaknesses in the child’s ability to process longer utterances. The implication is that the cross-linguistic pattern of verb-marking errors in children’s early language can only be properly understood by focusing on the relation between the kind of errors that young children make and the semantic-distributional properties of the language to which they have been exposed.
Published online: 17 September 2020
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