LINGUIST List 15.1291

Fri Apr 23 2004

Diss: Lang Acquisition: Abbot-Smith: 'Piecemeal...'

Editor for this issue: Takako Matsui <>


  1. smith, 'Piecemeal paths to grammatical productivity'

Message 1: 'Piecemeal paths to grammatical productivity'

Date: Fri, 23 Apr 2004 11:01:02 -0400 (EDT)
From: smith <>
Subject: 'Piecemeal paths to grammatical productivity'

Institution: University of Manchester
Program: Department of Psychology
Dissertation Status: Completed
Degree Date: 2003
Author: Kirsten Frances Abbot-Smith 
Dissertation Title: 'Piecemeal paths to grammatical productivity': how
children become productive with basic event constructions
Linguistic Field: Language Acquisition 

Subject Language: English (code: ENG) German, Standard (code: GER)
Dissertation Director 1: Elena Lieven
Dissertation Director 2: Michael Tomasello
Dissertation Abstract:
This thesis examines how English and German children become productive
with basic event constructions involving the semantic roles of agent
or patient. The approach taken is the usage-based/emergentist view,
which argues that children learn abstract constructions very
gradually, initially showing partial or lexically-specific
productivity with basic event constructions (e.g. Tomasello, 2000;
Goldberg, 1999; Langacker, 2000).
Generative researchers have argued that the semantic-syntactic mapping
involved in event constructions is acquired with the aid of certain
innate grammatical categories and principles. This leads to
predictions against the gradual development of productivity within a
particular aspect of grammar and against early lexical-specificity
(e.g. Radford, 1997; Weissenborn, 1999). However, the three empirical
studies conducted for this thesis found evidence for early
lexical-specificity and for a gradual increase in productivity with
event constructions.
The first study, taken together with previous findings by Akhtar
(1999), found that English-speaking children show a gradual increase
in productivity with subject-verb word order between 2;4 and 4;4 when
it is used to mark the agent of active sentences. The second study was
a training study, carried out in order to investigate whether shared
syntactic distribution, semantic analogy and input frequency play a
crucial role in the development of productive transitive constructions
by English-speaking 2;6-year-olds. The third study was a longitudinal
dense corpora study of the acquisition of the two German passive
constructions. It supported the 'construction conspiracy hypothesis'
that children will become productive with a grammatical construction
more quickly if they have previously learned related constructions.
These findings are used as a basis for further discussion on the
nature of early lexical-specificity and graded representations, and
the role of the grammar network, semantic analogy, distributional
analysis and input frequency in the acquisition of event
Mail to author|Respond to list|Read more issues|LINGUIST home page|Top of issue