French children's use and correction of weird word orders: a constructivist account.
Using the weird word order methodology (Akhtar, 1999), we investigated children's understanding of SVO word order in French, a language with less consistent argument ordering patterns than English. One hundred and twelve French children (ages 2; 10 and 3; 9) heard either high or low frequency verbs modelled in either SOV or VSO order (both ungrammatical). Results showed that: (1) children were more likely to adopt a weird word order if they heard lower frequency verbs, suggesting gradual learning; (2) children in the high frequency conditions tended to correct the ungrammatical model they heard to the closest grammatical alternative, suggesting different models activated different grammatical schemas; and (3) children were less likely to express the object of a transitive verb than were English children in an equivalent study, suggesting object expression is more difficult to master in French, perhaps because of its inconsistency in the input. These findings are discussed in the context of a usage-based model of language acquisition.
Matthews, D; Lieven, E; Theakston, A; Tomasello, M
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