Graded representations in the acquisition of English and German transitive constructions

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle


English and German children aged 2 years 4 months and 4 years heard both novel and familiar verbs in sentences whose form was grammatical, but which mismatched the event they were watching (e.g., 'The frog is pushing the lion', when the lion was actually the 'agent' or 'doer' of the pushing). These verbs were then elicited in new sentences. All children mostly corrected the familiar verb (i.e., they used the agent as the grammatical subject), but there were cross-linguistic differences among the two-year-olds concerning the novel verb. When English 2-year-olds used the novel verb they mostly corrected. However, their most frequent response was to avoid using the novel verb altogether. German 2-year-olds corrected the novel verb significantly more often than their English counterparts, demonstrating more robust verb-general representations of agent- and patient-marking. These findings provide support for a 'graded representations' view of development, which proposes that grammatical representations may be simultaneously abstract but 'weak'. © 2007 Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.

Bibliographical metadata

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)48-66
Number of pages18
JournalCognitive Development
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - Jan 2008