The incidence of error in young children's wh-questions

Rowland, C. F., Pine, J. M., Lieven, E. V., & Theakston, A. L. (2005). The incidence of error in young children's wh-questions. Journal of Speech, Language, and Hearing Research, 48, 384-404. doi:10.1044/1092-4388(2005/027).
Many current generativist theorists suggest that young children possess the grammatical principles of inversion required for question formation but make errors because they find it difficult to learn language-specific rules about how inversion applies. The present study analyzed longitudinal spontaneous sampled data from twelve 2–3-year-old English speaking children and the intensive diary data of 1 child (age 2;7 [years;months] to 2;11) in order to test some of these theories. The results indicated significantly different rates of error use across different auxiliaries. In particular, error rates differed across 2 forms of the same auxiliary subtype (e.g., auxiliary is vs. are), and auxiliary DO and modal auxiliaries attracted significantly higher rates of errors of inversion than other auxiliaries. The authors concluded that current generativist theories might have problems explaining the patterning of errors seen in children's questions, which might be more consistent with a constructivist account of development. However, constructivists need to devise more precise predictions in order to fully explain the acquisition of questions.
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