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Academic Paper

Title: Verb argument structure acquisition in young children: defining a role for discourse
Author: Letitia R. Naigles
Institution: University of Connecticut
Author: Ashley Maltempo
Institution: University of Connecticut
Linguistic Field: Language Acquisition
Subject Language: English
Abstract: Two-, three- and four-year-old English learners enacted sentences that were missing a direct object (e.g. *The zebra brings.). Previous work has indicated that preschoolers faced with such ungrammatical sentences consistently alter the usual meaning of the verb to fit the syntactic frame (enacting ‘zebra comes’); older children are more likely to repair the syntax to fit the meaning of the verb (enacting ‘zebra brings something’; Naigles, Gleitman & Gleitman, ). We investigated whether young children performed more repairs if an informative context preceded the ungrammatical sentences. Test sentences were preceded by short vignettes that created a relationship between three characters. Children repaired more sentences than had been found previously; however, older preschoolers also repaired significantly more frequently than younger preschoolers. Discourse context thus seems relevant to the acquisition of verb argument structure, but is not the sole source of information.


This article appears IN Journal of Child Language Vol. 38, Issue 3, which you can READ on Cambridge's site or on LINGUIST .

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