Subject-auxiliary inversion errors and wh-question acquisition: what children do know?
The present paper reports an analysis of correct wh-question production and subject–auxiliary inversion errors in one child's early wh-question data (age 2; 3.4 to 4; 10.23). It is argued that two current movement rule accounts (DeVilliers, 1991; Valian, Lasser & Mandelbaum, 1992) cannot explain the patterning of early wh-questions. However, the data can be explained in terms of the child's knowledge of particular lexically-specific wh-word+auxiliary combinations, and the pattern of inversion and uninversion predicted from the relative frequencies of these combinations in the mother's speech. The results support the claim that correctly inverted wh-questions can be produced without access to a subject–auxiliary inversion rule and are consistent with the constructivist claim that a distributional learning mechanism that learns and reproduces lexically-specific formulae heard in the input can explain much of the early multi-word speech data. The implications of these results for movement rule-based and constructivist theories of grammatical development are discussed.
Publication typeJournal article