Acquiring the transitive construction in English: the role of animacy and pronouns.

Journal Article (Journal Article)

Twenty-four children between 2;5 and 3;1 were taught two nonce verbs. Each verb was used multiple times by an adult experimenter to refer to a highly transitive action involving a mostly animate agent (including the child herself) and a patient of varying animacy. One of the verbs was modelled in the Two-Participants condition in which the experimenter said: 'Look. Big Bird is dopping the boat'. The other verb was modelled in the No-Participant condition in which the experimenter named the Two-Participants but did not use them as arguments of the novel verb: 'Look what Big Bird is doing to the boat. It's called keefing'. It was found that whereas many children produced transitive sentences with the Two-Participants verb, only children close to 3;0 produced transitive sentences with the No-Participant verb. This age is somewhat younger than previous studies in which young children were asked to produce transitive sentences with two lexical nouns for the two animate participants. Also, re-analyses of previously published studies in which children learned novel verbs in sentence frames without arguments found that the few transitive sentences produced by children under 2;6 involved either I or me as subject. One hypothesis is thus that as young children in the third year of life begin to construct a more abstract and verb-general transitive construction, this construction initially contains only certain types of participants expressed in only certain kinds of linguistic forms.

Full Text

Duke Authors

Cited Authors

  • Dodson, K; Tomasello, M

Published Date

  • October 1998

Published In

Volume / Issue

  • 25 / 3

Start / End Page

  • 605 - 622

PubMed ID

  • 10095327

Electronic International Standard Serial Number (EISSN)

  • 1469-7602

International Standard Serial Number (ISSN)

  • 0305-0009

Digital Object Identifier (DOI)

  • 10.1017/s0305000998003535


  • eng