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University of Pennsylvania Working Papers in Linguistics

Abstract

Nobody denies that the input plays an important role in language acquisition, but the issue as to whether the input is sufficient to drive language learning is still a matter of debate. In this paper we examine children’s acquisition of synthetic compounds in English and Dutch. Despite having necessarily different input, Dutch- and English-speaking children produce the same set of non-adult forms when acquiring synthetic compounds: drive-truck and driver-truck, but not truck-drive. In this paper we review three proposals for the English-speaking children’s data and examine how they fair in light of the Dutch-speaking children’s data. The proposals fall into two types: (i) input-driven proposals that argue that frequent, but unrelated, aspects of the input are causing the non-adult forms we see and (ii) grammar-driven proposals that argue that the children’s non-adult forms are actually driven by the adult derivation. Given the inability for the two experience-driven accounts to explain why Dutch- and English-speaking children produce the same non-adult forms, we will ultimately claim that only a proposal that relies on the grammar explains the data at hand. More specifically we argue that children proceed from their earliest non-adult productions to the adult truck-driver form in a manner consistent with a strong version of the continuity hypothesis. Rather than being approximations of the adult forms that are affected by other constructions in the input, the forms that children produce are steps in the adult derivation of synthetic compounds. As children learn more about the structure and can confidently advance the structure without missing any of the adult features, the forms progress towards the adult truck-driver form.

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