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Title: Subject and object wh-questions in child language acquisition
Author: Fontaine, Lorna K.
ISNI:       0000 0004 2676 3284
Awarding Body: University of Manchester
Current Institution: University of Manchester
Date of Award: 2009
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According to frame-based Constructivist accounts of language acquisition children learn to produce subject and object wh-questions in the same way as any other structure, namely by a gradual process of abstractions. These theories suggest children's early construction schemas are based around high frequency items in wh-questions and probabilistic relations between them. These accounts challenge the traditional Generativist theories of language acquisition according to which children possess an innate knowledge of how to produce wh-questions, but need to learn to apply it. This thesis aims to test these broad accounts empirically. Chapter 2 considers wh-questions in the context of these theoretical frameworks. Chapter 3 reports an experiment designed to determine whether verb frequency affects children's ability to produce subject and object wh-questions. Study 1 examines 3;11 and 4;11 year old children's ability to produce what- and who-questions. Results showed a significant effect of age, a significant effect of question type, no effect of the wh-word used (who vs. what), and no effect of verb frequency (familiar vs. novel verbs). Chapter 4 reports two further studies; Study 2 was designed to see if children younger than 3;11 would show an effect of verb frequency. Results showed a significant effect of question type but no main effect of verb frequency in the number of grammatical wh-questions produced, or in the errors. Study 3 was designed to see if the use of pronouns would influence children's ability to produce subject and object wh-questions. We found a significant effect of question type but no effect of verb frequency. Chapter 5 looks at the influence of animacy, pronoun ambiguity, and verb semantic class on children's ability to comprehend subject and object questions and to produce object wh-questions. We found evidence that both animacy and verb semantics can influence question production and comprehension. I conclude that a number of aspects of the results are broadly consistent with Constructivist frame-based accounts of wh-question acquisition, and error analyses undermine Generativist movement-based explanations.
Supervisor: Not available Sponsor: Not available
Qualification Name: Thesis (Ph.D.) Qualification Level: Doctoral
EThOS ID:  DOI: Not available