LINGUIST List 12.3022

Tue Dec 4 2001

Books: Acquisition

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  1. Ora Matushansky, Acquisition: Accessing Linguistic Competence

Message 1: Acquisition: Accessing Linguistic Competence

Date: Thu, 29 Nov 2001 21:55:49 -0500
From: Ora Matushansky <matushanMIT.EDU>
Subject: Acquisition: Accessing Linguistic Competence

UConn PhD thesis 2001

Kazuko Hiramatsu &quot;Accessing Linguistic Competence: Evidence from
Children's and Adults' Acceptability Judgements;
$12. For ordering information, visit our Web page:


In order to learn about grammar, linguists primarily rely on
acceptability judgements from native speakers of the language under
investigation. Our hope is that thes judgements allow us to tap into
people's competence, or their knowledge of the language, and allow us
to investigate the grammar. However, there has been some criticism
raised regarding the use of judgements and what they tell us about
competence and performance. First, many reseachers have argued that
grammaticality judgements are not appropriate for studying children's
competence since they are not able to perform metalinguistic
tasks. However, McDaniel and her colleagues have argued that children
as young as 2;11 are capable of providing consistent and reliable
judgements if they are trained. In this study, I provide additional
evidence that children are able to give reliable grammaticality
judgements, and show that a combination of production and judgement
data may reveal more about the child's grammar than production data
alone. In particular, I investigate children's non-adult negative
questions with doubled auxiliary verbs, as in (1).

(1) What did the smurf didn't buy?

My studies show that children produced 2Aux questions sentences, yet
judged them to be ungrammatical. I argue that these children do in
fact have the adult grammar, contrary to recent proposals, and that
their production of 2Aux questions is a performance error related to
knowledge about constituent negation. A second concern has been raised
with respect to the study of the adult grammar. Linguists have noted
anecdotally that certain types of island violations become
increasingly acceptable after repeated exposure. In order to determine
whther this so-called &quot;syntactic satiation&quot; is a general
performance phenomenon or constrained by syntax, Stromswold (1986) and
Snyder (1994, 2000) have investigated it experimentally. In this
study, I replicate Snyder (1994) and test additional types of island
violations. I also examine whether subject-related, such as handedness
or linguistic training, and task-related factors, such as general
reading ability, response time and presentation method, are associated
with satiation. The evidence from the studies suggests that syntactic
satiation is constrained by syntax and that it is a reflection of
competence. The present dissertation is a study of language
development in children. From a biological perspective, the
development of language, as the development of any other organic
systems, is an interaction between internal and external factors;
specifically, between the child's internal knowledge of linguistic
structures and the external linguistic experience s/he receives.

Drawing insights from the study of biological evolution, we put forth
a quantitative model of language acquisition that make this
interaction precise, by embedding a theory of knowledge, the Universal
Grammar, into a theory of learning from experience. In particular, we
advance the idea that language acquisition should be modeled as a
population of grammatical hypotheses, competing to match the external
linguistic experiences, much like in a natural selection process. We
present evidence -- conceptual, mathematical, and empirical, and from
a number of independent areas of linguistic research, including the
acquisition of syntax and morphophonology, and historical language
change -- to demonstrate the model's correctness and utility.

Ora Matushansky
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Monday, July 23, 2001