First steps in acquiring conditionals
First steps in acquiring conditionals. In E. C. Traugott, A. G. t. Meulen, J. S. Reilly, & C. A. Ferguson (Eds.
), On conditionals
(pp. 285-308). Cambridge University Press.
This chapter is about the initial flowering of conditionals, if-(then) constructions, in children's spontaneous speech. It is motivated by two major theoretical interests. The first and most immediate is to understand the acquisition process itself. Conditionals are conceptually, and in many languages morphosyntactically, complex. What aspects of cognitive and grammatical development are implicated in their acquisition? Does learning take place in the context of particular interactions with other speakers? Where do conditionals fit in with the acquisition of other complex sentences? What are the semantic, syntactic and pragmatic properties of the first conditionals?
Underlying this first interest is a second, more strictly linguistic one. Research of recent years has found increasing evidence that natural languages are constrained in certain ways. The source of these constraints is not yet clearly understood, but it is widely assumed that some of them derive ultimately from properties of children's capacity for language acquisition.