easily imagined errors

Daniel L. Everett dever at VERB.LINGUIST.PITT.EDU
Sun Apr 20 00:59:27 UTC 1997

On Sat, 19 Apr 1997, Brian MacWhinney wrote:

> these "easy
> to imagine errors" are not actually ones that ever occurred to the child.
> The child never tries to derive questions from the corresponding
> declaratives (as several previous email messages have noted).  Because of
> this, the linear movement or transformation generalization was not one that
> the child was considering in the first place.

Brian, I never said that this is what happened. My point is independent
of such an approach (although I think that you and the several previous
email messages are somewhat incorrect - neither Chomsky nor most other
generative linguists believe that the interrogative is formed from the
declarative. However, there is solid evidence that both involve displaced
constituents. These may be accounted for derivationally or
representationally, the choice is irrelevant for my arguments. Also, for
my arguments it is irrelevant whether you accept the statement about
displaced constituents. The point is that the child knows/learns structure.

>   I agree that the question is how the child accesses semantic structure in
> a disciplined enough way to avoid egregious errors.

I never said this either. This is one possibility (that the child uses
semantics). The other is Chomsky's - that the child uses syntax or a
combination of syntax and semantics. This is an empirical issue.

> To explore this, we
> don't need the hard examples.  We can just look at a sentence like "Is
> Daddy coming?"  There is a pretty rich child language literature on the
> development of questions.  For this type of question, there appears to be a
> stage when the aux is missing and we have just "Daddy coming?"  The
> intonation is there, as is the verb and the subject.  Only later, it
> appears, does the child add the aux.  I think this path makes sense.  The
> most uniform, reliable marker of the question across types in English is
> the intonation.  That gets mapped first, along with the core proposition.
> Then the embroidery gets added later.  The aux wasn't moved, it was just
> added.  When we get to the harder examples, the story is the same, since
> the complex-NP subject is a cognitive unit the child doesn't look to it for
> the required aux.

This is a very simple story, Brian. Sounds plausible. The problem you are
going to have convincing a generative syntactician is that it shows too
little knowledge of the complexities of structure-dependency. The
"cognitive unit" business is just hand-waving.

More information about the Funknet mailing list