This is the first of our Hilbert-Question (HQ) posts. Adriana Belletti kicks the series off with the following query:
How much of detected developmental stages can be attributed to the internal complexity of formal/grammatical factors and how much to general mechanisms? Are there really general mechanisms?
There are structures and constructions that appear to be particularly hard in acquisition (Crain & Thornton 1998, Guasti 2002, 2007 for a background on issues in theoretically oriented language acquisition studies). Typically, this is the case cross-linguistically, in domains in which constructions in different languages are closely comparable (e.g relative clauses, passive …). For instance, it has been claimed that Passive is delayed in several languages and this has been attributed to late development of the different aspects of the formal computation involved (A-chain, Borer & Wexler 1987; by-phrase Fox & Grodzinsky 1998, smuggling à la Collins 2005 as in Hyams and Snyder 2005). However, recent and less recent (e.g. Demuth 2010, Crain et al. 1987/2009) contributions indicate that under appropriate conditions – strictly formal, discourse related and possibly linked to the richness in the input – passive is not that hard for even young children, across languages. Similarly, in the acquisition of complex object relatives/A’-dependencies recent evidence has shown that not all types of object A’-dependencies are hard for young children. Appeal has been made to the principle of locality regulating intervention (Rizzi 1990, 2004) to account for the selected difficulty (Friedmann, Belletti, Rizzi (2009). This leads to the following more general query: do general mechanisms ever play any comparable role in providing refined explanations of these developmental milestones?
Borer, H. & K. Wexler (1987) “Maturation in Syntax”, in Parameter Setting, T.Roeper E.Williams eds. Reidel, 123-172
Crain, S. & R. Thornton (1998) Investigations in Universal Grammar, MIT Press
Crain, S., R. Thornton, K. Murasugi (1987/2009) “Capturing the evasive passive”, Language Acquisition, 16.2, 123-133
Collins, C. (2005) “A Smuggling Approach to the Passive in English”, Syntax, 8.2, 81-120
Demuth, K., F. Moloi, M.Machobane (2010) “Three year-olds’ comprehension, production and generalization of Sesotho passive”, Cognition, 115.2, 238-251
Fox, D. & Y.Grodzinsky (1998) “Children’s passive: A view from the by-phrase”, Linguistic Inquiry, 29: 311-332
Friedmann, N., Belletti, A., Rizzi, L., 2009. Relativized relatives: Types of intervention in the acquisition of A-bar dependencies. Lingua 119, 67–88
Guasti, M.T. (2002) Language Acquisition, MIT Press
Guasti, M.T. (2007) L’acquisizione del linguaggio, Raffaello Cortina Editore
Hyams, N. & W.Snyder (2005) “Young children never smuggle: Reflexive clitics and the universal freezing hypothesis”, GALANA, University of Hawaii
Rizzi, L. (1990) Relativized Minimality, MIT Press.
Rizzi, L. (2004) “Locality and the left periphery”, in A. Belletti ed., Structures and beyond: The cartography of syntactic structures, Vol. 3. OUP, 223–251