The relationship between *form and *function in ditransitive constructions

Kieran Margaret Snyder, University of Pennsylvania


This dissertation explores the nature of the relationship between syntax, semantics, and pragmatics. The discourse properties of ditransitive alternations are investigated in a series of crosslinguistic corpus studies. Speakers of different languages attend to the same non-syntactic factors, most notably information status and heaviness, in word order choice tasks. While the general tendency to place newer, heavier information later in the utterance is crosslinguistically robust, the particular pairings between word order and discourse properties vary across languages. The acquisition data considered suggest that children use some but not all of the discourse properties that adults use in choosing word order, mastering ditransitive syntax before they fully master its use. Children are at least eight years old before they attain adult-like performance in pairing a given word order with all of its associated discourse properties. The Tahitian French language contact data support a view of substratum influence in which speakers import L1 properties into L2 in the absence of specific negative evidence to the contrary. I argue for a model in which an independent syntax is used but not determined according to general processing-based considerations that lead speakers to place newer, heavier information after older, lighter information. Speakers package their utterances as felicitously as possible given the syntactic options available to them in their native language.

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Recommended Citation

Snyder, Kieran Margaret, "The relationship between *form and *function in ditransitive constructions" (2003). Dissertations available from ProQuest. AAI3095944.