Numerous examples are given of natural language produced by two children who were consistently followed between the ages of 4 and 6. Unexpectedly, since previous literature has suggested that children master verb placement very early in their linguistic development, these children move the verb in any type of embedded clause, leading to many verb-placement errors.
After introducing the problem and describing the data in detail, a technical analysis is developed in terms of a minimally split-CP, which is rather successful in accounting for these data.
The book should interest advanced students and researchers in both language acquisition and syntax.
Emphasizing the unique and sometimes competing demands of listener and speaker, the author examines resulting asymmetries between production and comprehension. The text offers examples of the interpretation of word order and pronouns by listeners, and word order freezing and referential choice by speakers. It is explored why the usual symmetry breaks down in children but also sometimes in adults.
Gathering contemporary insights from theoretical linguistic research, psycholinguistic studies and computational modeling, Asymmetries between Language Production and Comprehension presents a unified explanation of this phenomenon.
“Through a lucid, comprehensive review of acquisition studies on reference-related phenomena, Petra Hendriks builds a striking case for the pervasiveness of asymmetries in comprehension/production. In her view, listeners systematically misunderstand what they hear, and speakers systematically fail to prevent such misunderstandings. She argues that linguistic theory should take stock of current psycholinguistic and developmental evidence on optionality and ambiguity, and recognize language as a signaling system. The arguments are compelling yet controversial: grammar does not specify a one-to-one correspondence between form and meaning; and the demands of the mapping task differ for listeners and speakers. Her proposal is formalized within optimality theory, but researchers working outside this framework will still find it of great interest. In the language-as-code vs. language-as-signal debate, Hendriks puts the ball firmly in the other court.” Ana Pérez-Leroux, University of Toronto, Canada
The author takes cross-linguistic data from child language as evidence for recent proposals in syntactic theory. Developments in the structure of children's sentences during the first few years of life are traced to changes in the setting of specific grammatical parameters. Some surprising differences between the early child grammars of French and English are uncovered, differences that can only be explained on the basis of subtle distinctions in inflectional structure. This motivates the author's claim that functional or nonthematic categories are represented in the grammars of very young children. The book also explores the relationship between acquisition and diachronic change in French and English. It is argued that findings in acquisition, when viewed from a parameter setting perspective, provide answers to important questions arising in the study of language change.
The book promises to be of interest to all those involved in the formal, psychological or historical study of linguistic knowledge.