Accessing Linguistic Competence: Evidence from Children’s and Adults’ Acceptability Judgements

K. Hiramatsu, 2000

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My studies show that children produced 2Aux questions sentences, yet judged them to be ungrammatical. I argue that these children do in fact have the adult grammar, contrary to recent proposals, and that their production of 2Aux questions is a performance error related to knowledge about constituent negation. A second concern has been raised with respect to the study of the adult grammar. Linguists have noted anecdotally that certain types of island violations become increasingly acceptable after repeated exposure. In order to determine whther this so-called "syntactic satiation" is a general performance phenomenon or constrained by syntax, Stromswold (1986) and Snyder (1994, 2000) have investigated it experimentally. In this study, I replicate Snyder (1994) and test additional types of island violations. I also examine whether subject-related, such as handedness or linguistic training, and task-related factors, such as general reading ability, response time and presentation method, are associated with satiation. The evidence from the studies suggests that syntactic satiation is constrained by syntax and that it is a reflection of competence. The present dissertation is a study of language development in children. From a biological perspective, the development of language, as the development of any other organic systems, is an interaction between internal and external factors; specifically, between the child's internal knowledge of linguistic structures and the external linguistic experience he receives.

Drawing insights from the study of biological evolution, we put forth a quantitative model of language acquisition that make this interaction precise, by embedding a theory of knowledge, the Universal Grammar, into a theory of learning from experience. In particular, we advance the idea that language acquisition should be modeled as a population of grammatical hypotheses, competing to match the external linguistic experiences, much like in a natural selection process. We present evidence -- conceptual, mathematical, and empirical, and from a number of independent areas of linguistic research, including the acquisition of syntax and morphophonology, and historical language change -- to demonstrate the model's correctness and utility.