The role of syntactic structure in children's sentence comprehension: Evidence from the dative
Research has demonstrated that young children quickly acquire knowledge of how the structure of their language encodes meaning. However, this work focused on structurally simple transitives. The present studies investigate childrens' comprehension of the double object dative (e.g., I gave him the box) and the prepositional dative (e.g., I gave the box to him). In Study 1, 3- and 4-year-olds correctly preferred a transfer event reading of prepositional datives with novel verbs (e.g., I'm glorping the rabbit to the duck) but were unable to interpret double object datives (e.g., I'm glorping the duck the rabbit). In Studies 2 and 3, they were able to interpret both dative types when the nouns referring to the theme and recipient were canonically marked (Study 2; I'm glorping the rabbit to Duck) and, to a lesser extent, when they were distinctively but noncanonically marked (Study 3: I'm glorping rabbit to the Duck). Overall, the results suggest that English children have some verb-general knowledge of how dative syntax encodes meaning by 3 years of age, but successful comprehension may require the presence of additional surface cues.
Publication typeJournal article