Semantic generality, input frequency and the acquisition of syntax

Theakston, A. L., Lieven, E. V., Pine, J. M., & Rowland, C. F. (2004). Semantic generality, input frequency and the acquisition of syntax. Journal of Child Language, 31(1), 61-99. doi:10.1017/S0305000903005956.
In many areas of language acquisition, researchers have suggested that semantic generality plays an important role in determining the order of acquisition of particular lexical forms. However, generality is typically confounded with the effects of input frequency and it is therefore unclear to what extent semantic generality or input frequency determines the early acquisition of particular lexical items. The present study evaluates the relative influence of semantic status and properties of the input on the acquisition of verbs and their argument structures in the early speech of 9 English-speaking children from 2;0 to 3;0. The children's early verb utterances are examined with respect to (1) the order of acquisition of particular verbs in three different constructions, (2) the syntactic diversity of use of individual verbs, (3) the relative proportional use of semantically general verbs as a function of total verb use, and (4) their grammatical accuracy. The data suggest that although measures of semantic generality correlate with various measures of early verb use, once the effects of verb use in the input are removed, semantic generality is not a significant predictor of early verb use. The implications of these results for semantic-based theories of verb argument structure acquisition are discussed.
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