Word Order Overrules Number Agreement: Dutch Children's Interpretation and Production of which-Questions
Atty Schouwenaars, Angeliek van Hout, and Petra Hendriks
60-71 (complete paper
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There is an asymmetry in children's acquisition of wh-questions: subject questions are easier than object questions. Dutch wh-questions are structurally ambiguous between subject and object questions, in contrast to the languages for which this asymmetry has been established (English and French). In Dutch which-questions, however, subject-verb number agreement can offer cues for disambiguation. Using such unambiguous questions, we tested twenty three Dutch 6 and 7-year-olds' interpretation and production of which-questions. The comprehension results indeed reveal a subject-object asymmetry: object questions were interpreted as subject questions, despite an agreement mismatch. In the elicitation task on the other hand, the same children had no problems producing object questions. Production thus precedes comprehension. The explanation given in this paper for the asymmetry between production and comprehension posits an overly strong Subject-First bias in children, which causes non-adult-like comprehension. In production, this bias is masked by the obligatory fronting of wh-constituents. This explanation is modeled in Optimality Theory (OT).
Selected Proceedings of the 5th Conference on Generative Approaches to Language Acquisition North America (GALANA 2012)
edited by Chia-Ying Chu, Caitlin E. Coughlin, Beatriz Lopez Prego, Utako Minai, and Annie Tremblay
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