Article published in:Syntactic Complexity: Diachrony, acquisition, neuro-cognition, evolution
Edited by T. Givón and Masayoshi Shibatani
[Typological Studies in Language 85] 2009
► pp. 311–388
The ontogeny of complex verb phrases
How children learn to negotiate fact and desire
This paper investigate the acquisition of V-complement constructions (complex VPs) by English-speaking children ca. age 1;8-to-2;9. It suggests that the child acquires these constructions during intensive epistemic or deontic modal negotiations with the adult. In the earliest stage, the main-plus-complement construction is spread over adjacent child-adult or adult-child conversational turns ( Ochs et al. 1979). The early precursor of the complex VP construction is thus paratactic, with the two clauses falling under separate intonation contours. Only later on is the construction condensed into a complex syntactic construction under a single intonation contour, produced by the child alone. The early use of these constructions is as direct speech acts, be they epistemic or deontic (Diessel 2005), whereby the semantic focus resides in the complement clause, and the main clause acts as a modal operator. But this is true of both the children and their adult interlocutors, and is also characteristic, at the text-frequency level, of adult oral language (Thomson 2001). However, this characterization of complex VPs is semantic rather than syntactic.
Published online: 22 April 2009
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