The acquisition of syntax

Abstract

Do children acquire language rapidly, or slowly? From the vantage point of linguistic theory, all normal children could be expected to have full command of a rich and intricate system of linguistic principles in just a few years. Experimental studies of child language, however, paint a different picture of language development: It appears that language learning extends over many years, with children making numerous missteps along the way. Attempts have been made to reconcile theory and data, by looking for features of language development that might impede the emergence of linguistic knowledge, and by looking in more detail at the experimental findings themselves. We begin by reviewing the reasons, based on current linguistic theory, for anticipating the rapid growth of linguistic knowledge in children. Then we turn to the laboratory, to consider both findings that do not sit well with the expectations of linguistic theory, as well as ones that comport well with theory.

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