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Priming reflects the reactivation of processing routines that map strings of words onto semantic representations (and vice versa) without the mediation of syntactic structure, including the “flat structure” that Branigan & Pickering (B&P) propose. Key evidence for this claim comes from the possibility of priming relations involving subject-verb sequences, which are not syntactic constituents.
Pierce, Genesee, Delcenserie, and Morgan (2017) are right to suggest that working memory is a crucial part of the machinery underlying linguistic development. In this brief commentary, I will move beyond the emergence of phonological representations, on which Pierce et al.’s essay focuses, and consider ways in which working memory shapes the character and acquisition of grammatical phenomena, a topic that has been explored in various ways in the recent literature (e.g., Chater & Christiansen, 2010; Hawkins, 2014; O'Grady, 2005, 2015).
This paper is concerned with the formulation of a constraint on the set of NPs which can serve as “antecedent” for PRO and floated quantifiers. I will begin by showing that a principle formulated in terms of c-command encounters problems distinguishing between two classes of NPs occurring within PPs. I will then propose that a more comprehensive and successful constraint can be formulated in terms of thematic dependency, a relation holding between an NP and the lexical category which determines its thematic role.
In a recent reply to my review of The Language Lottery, David Lightfoot (1985) attempts to rebut the claims which I made about the viability of language learning without task-specific innate principles. The basic thrust of Lightfoot’s book is that there are innate linguistic principles which constrain the form of grammars and play a crucial role in language acquisition. I referred to this view as “special nativism” and contrasted it with “general nativism”, the thesis that genetic structuring of the mind is of a more general sort and does not include principles or notions specific to language. I suggested that special nativism is linked to a particular syntactic theory (transformational grammar) and that a theory of language learning more compatible with general nativism could well emerge from a different type of syntactic analysis. As an illustration of this, I briefly outlined two counterproposals, one pertaining to the interpretation of the indefinite pronoun one and the other to binding theory. In his reply to my review, Lightfoot misinterprets my suggestions, pointing to supposed inadequacies which would undermine the more general point I advanced.
I focus on two challenges that processing-based theories of language must confront: the need to explain why language has the particular properties that it does, and the need to explain why processing pressures are manifested in the particular way that they are. I discuss these matters with reference to two illustrative phenomena: proximity effects in word order and a constraint on contraction.
This paper investigates English-speaking children's acquisition of raising constructions (e.g. John seems to Mary to be happy) and finds an asymmetric effect of NP type on their comprehension: an improvement in performance is observed when a lexical NP is raised across a pronominal experiencer (e.g. John seems to her to be happy) compared to when a pronoun is raised across a lexical NP experiencer (e.g. He seems to Mary to be happy). These results are consistent with a processing-based approach to intervention effects, which reduces children's difficulty with raising to a performance limitation, rather than a grammatical deficit.
We report here on a series of elicited production experiments that investigate the production of indirect object and oblique relative clauses by monolingual child learners of English and Korean. Taken together, the results from the two languages point toward a pair of robust asymmetries: children manifest a preference for subject relative clauses over indirect object relative clauses, and for direct object relative clauses over oblique relative clauses. We consider various possible explanations for these preferences, of which the most promising seems to involve the requirement that the referent of the head noun be easily construed as what the relative clause is about.
Most explanatory work on first and second language learning assumes the primacy of the acquisition phenomenon itself, and a good deal of work has been devoted to the search for an ‘acquisition device’ that is specific to humans, and perhaps even to language. I will consider the possibility that this strategy is misguided and that language acquisition is a secondary effect of processing amelioration: attempts by the processor to facilitate its own functioning by developing routines of particular sorts.
It is widely recognized that the processor has a key role to play in creating and strengthening the mapping between form and meaning that is integral to language use. Adopting an emergentist approach to heritage language acquisition, the current study considers the extent to which the operation of the processor can contribute to an account of what is acquired, what is subsequently retained or lost, and what is never acquired in the first place. These questions are explored from two perspectives. First, morphosyntactic phenomena for which there is apparently substantial input are considered, with a focus on the relevance of salience, frequency, and transparency to the establishment of form-meaning mappings. Second, a phenomenon for which there appears to be relatively little input (i.e., scope) is examined with a view to understanding its fate in heritage language acquisition. In both cases, the emergentist perspective appears to offer promising insights into why heritage language learners succeed—and fail—in the way that they do.
In the preceding chapter, we focused on the form of sentences – whether the words are in the right order, whether any parts are missing, whether the right pronoun is used, and so on. But that's only half the story, at best. We also need to think about how sentences convey meaning.
We'll begin by looking at children's early one-word and two-word utterances to see what types of meanings they express and what they tell us about children's early linguistic abilities. We'll then move on to consider a series of more advanced constructions, each of which provides valuable clues about children's emerging abilities to understand and to communicate.
What a word can do
From the day they say their first word, children are amazingly good at finding ways to express themselves and at interpreting what adults say to them. Children's first utterances usually consist of just a single word, but it's often used to express a sentence-like meaning.
A child who points to her father and excitedly says “Dada, Dada!” is doing more than naming the person who just entered the room – she's trying to express the meaning “Here's Daddy.” And a child who looks at her mother's gloves and says “Mama” is not confusing the gloves with her mother – she's trying to say something like “Those are Mommy's gloves.”
Single-word utterances are often called holophrases (literally “whole sentences”).