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Evolutionary Syntax

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Academic Paper

Title: Usage-based vs. rule-based learning: the acquisition of word order in wh-questions in English and Norwegian
Author: Marit Westergaard
Institution: Center for Advanced Study in Theoretical Linguistics, U Tromsø
Linguistic Field: Language Acquisition; Syntax
Subject Language: English
Norwegian Bokmål
Abstract: This paper discusses different approaches to language acquisition in relation to children's acquisition of word order in wh-questions in English and Norwegian. While generative models assert that children set major word order parameters and thus acquire a rule of subject–auxiliary inversion or generalized verb second (V2) at an early stage, some constructivist work argues that English-speaking children are simply reproducing frequent wh-word+auxiliary combinations in the input. The paper questions both approaches, re-evaluates some previous work, and provides some further data, concluding that the acquisition of wh-questions must be the result of a rule-based process. Based on variation in adult grammars, a cue-based model to language acquisition is presented, according to which children are sensitive to minor cues in the input, called micro-cues. V2 is not considered to be one major parameter, but several smaller-scale cues, which are responsible for children's lack of syntactic (over-)generalization in the acquisition process.


This article appears IN Journal of Child Language Vol. 36, Issue 5, which you can READ on Cambridge's site or on LINGUIST .

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