When Seem Means Think: The Role of the Experiencer-Phrase in Children's Comprehension of Raising
Christopher Hirsch, Robyn Orfitelli, and Ken Wexler
135-146 (complete paper
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Certain maturational theories of language development predict poor comprehension of subject-to-subject raising structures, as found by Hirsch and Wexler (in press), who present evidence that children misinterpret sentences like John seems to Mary to be wearing a hat as John thinks Mary is wearing a hat (the 'think-analysis'). In contrast, Becker (2006) suggests that children do comprehend raising structures, and actually misanalyze control structures as involving raising. Crucially, these experiments test different items: Hirsch and Wexler's raised items included an experiencer-phrase, while Becker's did not. Many languages do not allow raising over an experiencer, which may explain the different findings. Snyder and Hyams (2005) hypothesize that children should be delayed for grammatical reasons in their comprehension of raising structures only when raising must take place over an experiencer-phrase. Results are presented from 40 children where those under the age of 7 misanalyze raised examples with the experiencer-phrase, replicating previous findings from Hirsch and Wexler; the majority of younger children also score significantly below chance for raised trials without an experiencer-phrase. This poor performance highlights a general problem with raising, and not with the experiencer-phrase itself, and further evidence also suggests that children use the think-analysis even when the experiencer-phrase is not present. Contra both Becker and Snyder and Hyams, children have a general difficulty with all subject-to-subject raising structures. An alternative explanation for Becker's empirical findings is offered.
Proceedings of the 2nd Conference on Generative Approaches to Language Acquisition North America (GALANA)
edited by Alyona Belikova, Luisa Meroni, and Mari Umeda
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