LINGUIST List 25.1476

Thu Mar 27 2014

Diss: Portuguese, Language Acquisition: Estrela: 'The Acquisition of Passives ...'

Editor for this issue: Xiyan Wang <>

Date: 26-Mar-2014
From: Antónia Estrela <>
Subject: The Acquisition of Passives in European Portuguese
E-mail this message to a friend

Institution: Universidade Nova de Lisboa
Program: PhD in Linguistics
Dissertation Status: Completed
Degree Date: 2013

Author: Antónia Estrela

Dissertation Title: The Acquisition of Passives in European Portuguese

Dissertation URL:

Linguistic Field(s): Language Acquisition

Subject Language(s): Portuguese (por)

Dissertation Director:
Amália Mendes
João Costa

Dissertation Abstract:

The aim of this study is to describe the acquisition of passives in
European Portuguese, specifically regarding its comprehension. Many studies
reveal that this construction is acquired late in different languages, both
when production and comprehension are considered.

The apparent cross linguistic delay suggests children's knowledge is
somehow restricted, leading some authors to claim that the difficulties are
due to syntactic maturation (Borer & Wexler 1987; Hirsch & Wexler 2007) or
to the development of thematic role assignment (Fox & Grodzinsky 1998).
Other studies value the importance of the input (Gordon & Chafetz 1990;
Demuth et al. 2010), while others emphasize the pragmatic and discursive
features assigned to the passive (Tomasello 2000; Marchman et al. 1991).
Recently, some important studies point out that the acquisition of the
passive construction is not delayed, arguing that if the felicity
conditions are met, children will not have problems interpreting this
structure, although other factors may be involved (O'Brien et al. 2006;
Thatcher et al. 2008).

This study aims at addressing the lack of systematic data on the
acquisition of passives in European Portuguese. In order to accomplish
that, it presents the results of four pilot studies on the comprehension of
the structure under analysis. The first study is designed to test
comprehension of long and short passive with actional verbs; the second and
third analyze the comprehension of passives with actional and non-actional
verbs; and the fourth assesses whether children distinguish three types of
passive and their different properties (eventive, resultative and stative

First, the results show that four-year- old children can understand
passives with actional verbs, revealing no difference between short and
long passives. Secondly, passives with non-actional verbs are problematic
for children of different age groups and even active sentences with
non-actional verbs are difficult. Thirdly, the analysis of the results of
the fourth experimental study reveals that, at five, children do not show
significant differences in the judgments of grammaticality assigned to
various types of passive, with a performance at the chance level,
contrarily to the performance of six-year-old children. Grammaticality
contrasts are not completely understood by children, but we can already
notice a statistically significant development in the recognition of the
contrast between eventive and stative passives; and resultative and stative

The analysis of an acquisition corpus complete these results, showing that
even before the age of two children produce stative passives, and before
they are three years old they produce eventive and resultative passives.

The study conducted allows us to evaluate the different proposals in the
literature, covering various aspects relevant to the acquisition of passive
structure, a structure in which different factors are involved, justifying
that the processing of various types of the passive construction occurs

Page Updated: 27-Mar-2014