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LINGUIST List 20.1756

Thu May 07 2009

Diss: Lang Acq/Ling Theories/Psycholing/Semantics/Syntax: Kirby: ...

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        1.    Susannah Kirby, Semantic Scaffolding in First Language Acquisition: The acquisition of raising-to-object and object control

Message 1: Semantic Scaffolding in First Language Acquisition: The acquisition of raising-to-object and object control
Date: 06-May-2009
From: Susannah Kirby <sukiibiblio.org>
Subject: Semantic Scaffolding in First Language Acquisition: The acquisition of raising-to-object and object control
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Institution: University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill
Program: Department of Linguistics
Dissertation Status: Completed
Degree Date: 2009

Author: Susannah Kirby

Dissertation Title: Semantic Scaffolding in First Language Acquisition: The acquisition of raising-to-object and object control

Dissertation URL: http://www.unc.edu/~tofu/kirbydissertation.pdf

Linguistic Field(s): Language Acquisition
                            Linguistic Theories
                            Psycholinguistics
                            Semantics
                            Syntax

Subject Language(s): English (eng)

Dissertation Director:
Misha Becker

Dissertation Abstract:

This dissertation joins the debates on whether language is innate and/or
modular, by examining English-speaking children's acquisition of
raising-to-object (RO; (1)) and object control (OC; (2)) utterances.

1. RO: Suki wanted/needed Neili [ti to kiss Louise]

2. OC: Suki asked/told Neili [PROi to kiss Louise]

While these verbs may appear in the same surface string, they map onto two
distinct underlying structures. As a result, they differ in their syntactic
and semantic behaviors, including the interpretation of embedded passives,
and whether the subject of the embedded clause may be expletive or inanimate.

Several truth-value and sentence judgment tasks yielded the following results:

- Children have adultlike comprehension of active RO/OC utterances by age 4.

- Children who fail on tests of matrix passives can interpret passives
embedded under RO verbs (despite their greater length and syntactic
complexity), but not under OC verbs (which have syntax more like matrix
passives).

- In sentence judgment tasks, children preferentially parse the embedded
clause alone.

To account for these patterns, I offer the semantic scaffolding hypothesis,
which comprises two major proposals: (a) children assume a canonical
alignment of thematic and grammatical roles, resulting in agent-subjects
and patient-objects, and (b) children assume a default clausal shape of
contiguous subject and predicate. I argue that children use semantic
scaffolding as a stepping stone on their way to adultlike syntactic and
processing power. In short, movement may be easier than control structures,
if these assumptions are not violated.

Moreover, the fact that children do maintain a distinction between the verb
classes is evidence for innateness and modularity in language. However, the
language module interacts crucially with other cognitive modules (e.g., the
conceptual-semantic system) and with domain-general faculties (e.g.,
attention, memory).

Finally, the results presented here also bear on the following issues:

- There is no evidence for maturation of A-chains and/or control, contra
Wexler (e.g., 1992, 2004).

- Children's performance on active RO, passives, and embedded passives
suggest that RO utterances should instead be analyzed as instances of
'exceptional case marking.'

- The data can neither support nor refute Hornstein's (1999) proposal that
RO and OC both be analyzed as instances of movement.



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