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Variation and Reduction as Aspects of Competence in Child Language

Bloom, Lois; Miller, Peggy; Hood, Lois

One- and two-year-old children’s earliest sentences are limited to two or three words, and the purpose of this study was to examine the factors that influence changes in sentence length and complexity over time. The conclusion from the research presented here is that children learn underlying constituent structure, but with variable probabilities for realizing individual constituents in sentences as a function of four factors: grammatical complexity, lexical access, discourse interaction, and the yet unaccounted for residual variability (the performance factor). A probabilistic model of variation is proposed in which these factors operate with different effects, either to facilitate or increase the probability of one or another constituent relation occurring in a child’s sentences. Verbs are central to the constituent structure that children learn: distributionally, verbs occur more frequently than other constituents; semantically, they specify the meaning relations between Subject and Complement forms; syntactically, they order Subject and Complement forms relative to each other. Children come to a linguistic induction about regularities in the relations between words that are, at once, both semantic and syntactic, having to do with the consistent ways in which words are ordered relative to one another in relation to aspects of experience.


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Also Published In

Minnesota symposia on child psychology Volume 9
University of Minnesota

More About This Work

Academic Units
Human Development
Published Here
November 14, 2016