TRANSITIVITY IN EARLY CHILD LANGUAGE

Patricia Balcom

Abstract


This paper examines the hypothesis that children attend to and encode
events of cardinal transitivity in their early utterances, and only later extend the grammatical devices thus acquired to describe events of lower transitivity. I show that the parameters of the cardinal transitive event have perceptual and cognitive correlates, and that children are predisposed to attend to such events. A transitivity grid is developed, based on research in infant and child perception and cognition, by
which utterances can be rated in terms of relative transitivity. This grid is applied to the most frequently occurring transitive utterances in a diary study of an English-speaking child 20 to 23 months old. The results support the hypothesis that children use cardinal transitive events to bootstrap their way into syntax. An appendix of all of the utterances used in the analysis is included, along with the context, both linguistic and non-linguistic, in which the utterances occurred.

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