The Acquisition of Auxiliary Syntax: A Longitudinal Elicitation Study. Part 1: Auxiliary BE PurposeThe question of how and when English-speaking children acquire auxiliaries is the subject of extensive debate. Some researchers posit the existence of innately given Universal Grammar principles to guide acquisition, although some aspects of the auxiliary system must be learned from the input. Others suggest that auxiliaries can be learned ... Article
Article  |   December 01, 2009
The Acquisition of Auxiliary Syntax: A Longitudinal Elicitation Study. Part 1: Auxiliary BE
 
Author Notes
  • Contact author: Anna L. Theakston, University of Manchester, School of Psychological Sciences, Oxford Road, Manchester M139PL, United Kingdom. E-mail: anna.theakston@manchester.ac.uk.
Article Information
Development / Swallowing, Dysphagia & Feeding Disorders / Attention, Memory & Executive Functions / Language
Article   |   December 01, 2009
The Acquisition of Auxiliary Syntax: A Longitudinal Elicitation Study. Part 1: Auxiliary BE
Journal of Speech, Language, and Hearing Research, December 2009, Vol. 52, 1449-1470. doi:10.1044/1092-4388(2009/08-0037)
History: Received February 13, 2008 , Revised October 3, 2008 , Accepted April 1, 2009
 
Journal of Speech, Language, and Hearing Research, December 2009, Vol. 52, 1449-1470. doi:10.1044/1092-4388(2009/08-0037)
History: Received February 13, 2008; Revised October 3, 2008; Accepted April 1, 2009
Web of Science® Times Cited: 9

PurposeThe question of how and when English-speaking children acquire auxiliaries is the subject of extensive debate. Some researchers posit the existence of innately given Universal Grammar principles to guide acquisition, although some aspects of the auxiliary system must be learned from the input. Others suggest that auxiliaries can be learned without Universal Grammar, citing evidence of piecemeal learning in their support. This study represents a unique attempt to trace the development of auxiliary syntax by using a longitudinal elicitation methodology.

MethodTwelve English-speaking children participated in 3 tasks designed to elicit auxiliary BE in declaratives and yes/no and wh-questions. They completed each task 6 times in total between the ages of 2;10 (years;months) and 3;6.

ResultsThe children’s levels of correct use of 2 forms of BE (is,are) differed according to auxiliary form and sentence structure, and these relations changed over development. An analysis of the children’s errors also revealed complex interactions between these factors.

ConclusionThese data are problematic for existing accounts of auxiliary acquisition and highlight the need for researchers working within both generativist and constructivist frameworks to develop more detailed theories of acquisition that directly predict the pattern of acquisition observed.

Acknowledgments
This research was funded by Economic and Social Research Council Grant RES-000-23-0673. A great deal of thanks is due to Jess Butcher and Debbie Anderson, who carried out the extensive data collection for this study. We also thank the parents and children who gave up their time to take part in this research.
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