Language Evolution: The Windows Approach addresses the question: "How can we unravel the evolution of language, given that there is no direct evidence about it?"
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Date: Fri, 23 Sep 2005 00:20:24 -0700 (PDT) From: Jason Brown Subject: The Acquisition of Complex Sentences
AUTHOR: Diessel, Holger TITLE: The Acquisition of Complex Sentences SERIES: Cambridge Studies in Linguistics 105 PUBLISHER: Cambridge University Press YEAR: 2004
Jason Brown, Department of Linguistics, University of British Columbia
This book is a study of the acquisition of complex sentences in English. The book consists of eight chapters, plus a substantial appendix. This book will be of interest to researchers working on language acquisition, and syntax in general. It would be well suited for use in a graduate course in language acquisition, and portions would even be suitable for undergraduate courses in the same field of study.
Chapter 1, Introduction: In this chapter, an outline of the structure of the book is presented, and what constitutes a "complex sentence" is discussed. This includes sentences with a matrix and a subordinate clause, or coordinate clauses. Furthermore, three different types of subordinate clause are distinguished: complement, relative, and adverbial clauses, all three of which can be finite or nonfinite. A complement clause serves as the argument of the predicate in a superordinate clause, a relative clause as an attribute of N or NP, and an adverbial clause serves as a modifier of the matrix clause or VP.
The data used in this study is then discussed. The data consists of 12,000 multiple clause utterances from 5 English speaking children obtained from the CHILDES database. As the author notes, this is to date the largest database compiled for this type of study. The two hypotheses behind the study are then laid out. The first is that complex sentences evolve from simple sentences. The author states that "the development of complex sentences originates from simple nonembedded sentences that are gradually 'transformed' to multiple- clause constructions" (3). The second hypothesis is that "children's early complex sentences are organized around concrete lexical expressions. More schematic representations of complex sentences emerge only later when children have learned a sufficient number of lexically specific constructions to generalize across them" (3).
Chapter 2, A dynamic network model of grammatical constructions: This chapter lays out the theoretical background of the study. In contrast to a generative approach, the author takes a "functional- cognitive approach". The study makes use of both Construction Grammar (Lakoff 1987, Fillmore 1988, Fillmore & Kay 1993, Goldberg 1995, Croft 2001, etc.) and the usage-based approach to grammar (Langacker 1988, 2000, Bybee 1995, 2001; also Barlow and Kemmer 2000). The chapter first gives a brief overview of Construction Grammar. Construction Grammar views constructions as grammatical primitives. In this way, grammatical constructions are like words in that they are pairings of sound and meaning. The chapter discusses the importance of formulaic "pre-fabricated chunks", "low-level formulas" and idiomatic expressions to the theory. Also discussed is the continuum between the grammar and lexicon inherent in this view. The chapter next discusses the usage-based approach, which views grammar as being shaped by usage. The major differences between the usage-based model and the generative model are discussed, and they include views about innateness and grammatical development.
Chapter 3, Towards a definition of complex sentences and subordinate clauses: The goal of this chapter is to define the phenomena at hand, specifically as "grammatical constructions that express a specific relationship between two (or more) situations in two (or more) clauses" (41), where the terms "situation" and "clause" are given further elaboration. Most of the chapter is dedicated to defining subordinate clauses. Subsections describe the syntactic and semantic features, as well as the processing of subordinate clauses. The chapter concludes with a summary of the features of prototypical subordinate clauses.
Chapter 4, Infinitival and participial complement constructions: This chapter deals with the first complex sentences to appear in the acquisition data: non-finite complement constructions. After a literature review on the subject, an overview of non-finite complement constructions in adult English is provided. A claim of this chapter is that the earliest examples in acquisition of this type of construction can actually be analyzed as a type of quasi-modal (with no embedding). The next forms that appear are the non-finite complement clauses that are truly embedded. Of these constructions, the earlier forms are typically subject control, followed by object control. This path of development is attributed to clause expansion. Diessel shows that while the earlier constructions constituted propositions that made reference to a single situation, the complement clause and complement-taking verb in later constructions that emerge are less tightly bound to each other and can be considered two propositions. Finally, several motivations for the order of acquisition are discussed. The frequency of constructions in the ambient language is pointed out as one factor, while the complexity of constructions is another.
Chapter 5, Complement clauses: This chapter deals with the next complex sentence type to appear in the acquisition data, which is the finite complement clause. One claim is that early complement clauses are accompanied by formulaic matrix clauses; that is, only a single proposition is expressed, and thus, complement clauses at this stage are not embedded. The chapter argues that the matrix clauses in this stage are non-assertive (i.e. they are epistemic markers, attention getters, etc.). The clauses are then divided into 4 different types: 1) epistemic markers, 2) deontic modality markers, 3) discourse directives, and 4) say, tell, and pretend.
The chapter also discusses performative vs. assertive uses, and the role that pragmatics and illocutionary force play. The general course of development for complement clauses is also outlined, whereby the formulaic constructions occur, then the performative, then the assertive. This is shown to be another case of clause expansion, whereby a single proposition expands in later development into two independent propositions. Again, factors motivating this development can be found in the ambient language, in the complexity of the constructions, and also in the cognitive capacities of the child.
Chapter 6, Relative clauses: In this chapter, Diessel discusses the emergence of relative clauses. In a review of the literature, some of the more relevant hypotheses concerning relative clauses in acquisition are discussed, such as the noninterruption hypothesis, the filler-gap hypothesis, the NVN-schema hypothesis, the parallel- function hypothesis, and the conjoined-clause hypothesis. Also discussed are restrictive vs. non-restrictive relative clauses, and the conjoined clause analysis. The chapter outlines the development of relative clauses from simple, lexically-specific constructions into fully fledged bi-clausal structures. The order of development is outlined. The first relatives to emerge are described as predicate nominal amalgams in which the relative clause is not independent of the matrix clause. The next constructions to emerge are fully bi-clausal structures in which two independent propositions are expressed. Much like the infinitival and complement clauses discussed in the previous two chapters, the acquisition of relative clauses involves an incremental development from simple to more complex clauses. This development is again of the "clause expansion" type that was seen for non-finite and finite complement clauses.
Chapter 7, Adverbial and co-ordinate clauses: This chapter discusses how these two types of clause are traditionally distinguished (adverbial clauses are typically classified as subordinate clauses, coordinate clauses are typically considered as non-embedded), and how they actually form a continuum (the class of these two clauses is termed "conjoined clauses"). The contrast between these clauses and those discussed in chapters 4-6 is their path of development. While non-finite and finite complement clauses and relative clauses develop through clause expansion, adverbial and coordinate clauses develop through the integration of two independent clauses. As Diessel states, "conjoined clauses functioning as independent sentences emerge prior to conjoined clauses that are integrated in biclausal constructions" (170). Finally, factors influencing the order of acquisition of these clauses are discussed, including frequency in the ambient language, complexity of processing, and discourse-pragmatic functions.
Chapter 8, Conclusion: This chapter provides an overview of the study, as well as an in-depth discussion of the hypotheses laid out in the introduction and the relevance of the data from chapters 4 through 7. The chapter discusses the various complex sentence types, and how their development relates to the usage based model and Cognitive Grammar. Special emphasis is placed on how the paths of development for each of the complex sentence types in the book relates to the two hypotheses of the study; in particular, how complex sentences start as simple clauses, and how they emerge as lexically specific constructions and develop into constructional schemas. The appendix at the end of the book (pp. 186-199) provides 14 pages of data.
The book is extremely readable, even for an audience that may not be familiar with the syntax of complex sentences or syntactic acquisition. For example, in chapters 4-7, Diessel follows a consistent formula for chapter breakdowns, which include a literature review, followed by an outline of the construction in adult grammar, an exposition of the acquisition data, an analysis, and finally, a discussion. Readers should find this format extremely accessible for two reasons: first, it makes each chapter easy to digest, and second, it makes each chapter directly relatable to the others.
At first glance, one might criticize Diessel for basing an acquisition study solely on English data. However, given the scarcity of data available from other languages, and the abundance of English data, it made for a strong empirical grounding for the study. The use of five subjects, along with the fairly wide age range of the subjects, gave the study an admirable amount of breadth. Diessel must be applauded for providing the first comprehensive look at ALL complex sentence types in acquisition, and also for the use of data in the study. Diessel consistently uses data from the same 5 subjects, and the overall utterance counts are impressive. Such a study should set a standard for other researchers, especially those interested in how complex sentences are acquired by speakers of languages other than English. For researchers working on syntactic acquisition in other languages, this book should ultimately leave you wondering, would clause expansion and integration look the same in these other languages? Hopefully Diessel's work will stimulate others to seek an answer to this question.
Although it's an excellent overview of Cognitive Grammar and the usage-based model, upon first encounter, one may wonder what chapter 2 is doing in the book. The necessity of the chapter becomes evident in the following chapters and in the conclusion, where the discussion of the data forces the reader to seriously think about concepts like formulaicity and pre-fabricated chunks, as well as all of the factors that help to determine paths of development, such as the frequency of constructions in the ambient language, the complexity of constructions, and the cognitive and processing demands that certain constructions require. Diessel makes it a point to show how all of these factors are relevant for the acquisition of complex sentences.
Finally, the hypotheses are exciting. The idea that all complex sentences emerge from simple sentences seems simple enough, but the claim that complex sentences arise through two different paths (expansion AND integration) can only be taken seriously with loads of empirical data to support it. Diessel provides exactly this.
The book is of the same high quality that characterizes the other books in the Cambridge Studies in Linguistics series. The exciting proposals and empirical rigour of the study make this both an interesting and well-grounded work. The book should become a regular reading in graduate courses in the acquisition of syntax, and it should set an example for future studies to follow.
Barlow, Michael & Susanne Kemmer (eds.) (2000). Usage-Based Models of Language. Stanford: CSLI Publications.
Bybee, Joan (1995). Regular morphology and the lexicon. Language and Cognitive Processes 10:425-455.
Bybee, Joan (2001). Phonology and Language Use. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
Croft, William (2001). Radical Construction Grammar. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
Fillmore, Charles J. (1988). Mechanisms of construction grammar. Berkeley Linguistics Society 14:35-55.
Fillmore, Charles J. & Paul Kay (1993). Construction Grammar. Berkeley: University of California Press.
Goldberg, Adele E. (1995). A Construction Grammar Approach to Argument Structure. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.
Lakoff, George (1987). Women, Fire, and Dangerous Things. Chicago: Chicago University Press.
Langacker, Ronald W. (1988). A usage-based model. In B. Rudzka- Ostyn (ed.), Topics in Cognitive Linguistics, pp. 127-161. Amsterdam: John Benjamins.
Langacker, Ronald W. (2000). A dynamic usage-based model. In Barlow & Kemmer (2000), pp. 24-63.
ABOUT THE REVIEWER:
ABOUT THE REVIEWER
Jason Brown is currently a Ph.D. student at the University of British Columbia. His research focus is on phonological theory, with special interests in the phonetics-phonology interface, phonological representations, and feature theory. He is also interested in the acquisition of syntax.