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Optimal and Non-Optimal Interpretations in the Acquisition of Dutch Past Tenses
Angeliek van Hout
159-170 (complete paper or proceedings contents)


An aspectual comprehension experiment with Dutch learners reveals an asymmetry in their understanding of the Present Perfect on the one hand versus the Imperfective Past and Periphrastic Past Progressive on the other. Dutch 2- and 3-year-olds have acquired the completion entailment of the Perfect, but do not properly restrict their interpretation of the Imperfective Past and Periphrastic Past Progressive tenses. With the latter children accepted both completion and ongoing situations, in contrast to adults, who favored only ongoing situations. Van Hout argues that adults take both speaker and hearer perspectives in comprehension into account. Such bidirectional reasoning about tense forms and their aspectual meanings leads to the selection of the best form/meaning associations and the blocking of less good associations; blocking applies when there exists a better form to express a certain meaning. Children, however, cannot do bidirectional optimization, and hence do not block out non-optimal form/meaning pairs. Van Hout shows how this results in asymmetry: an overly liberal interpretation of the Imperfective and Progressive tense forms, but target-like understanding of the Perfect.

Published in

Proceedings of the 2nd Conference on Generative Approaches to Language Acquisition North America (GALANA)
edited by Alyona Belikova, Luisa Meroni, and Mari Umeda
Table of contents
Printed edition: $320.00