11: Syntactic Issues in Language Acquisition

Sigríður Sigurjónsdóttir (University of Iceland)

Since the introduction of generative grammar (Chomsky 1957), a central aim of linguistic theory has been to explain how children arrive at the target (or adult) grammar. This question is often referred to as the “logical problem of language acquisition.” It is the problem of explaining how most children come to know their native language very rapidly and in a fairly uniform fashion in spite of the so-called “poverty of the stimulus.” However, since language acquisition is far from “instantaneous,” the task of acquisitionists is to balance the “logical problem of language acquisition” with facts of language development. Acquisition theory must explain the gradual, stage-wise development which takes place during early childhood.

Largely due to the emphasis of the generative framework on innate principles, the syntactic component of the grammar has been a prominent research area within the field of language acquisition. Cross-linguistic research on various aspects of syntactic development has yielded interesting results and shed light on the interaction of syntax with other components of the grammar, e.g., morphology, semantics, pragmatics, and processing systems. It has long been maintained (since at least Halle 1962) that children acquiring a language play a major role as instigators of change. Thus, the relationship between language acquisition and syntactic variation and change is relevant. With the advancement of the field, its methods have become more sophisticated. In concert with methodological considerations, linguists are also now examining the interplay between syntax per se and processing systems such as those that support language comprehension and production. These issues thus continue to play an important role in research on childrenʼs underlying syntactic competence. Issues having to do with the input that the child receives also play a role in the acquisition of syntax, as in other linguistic domains. With these issues in mind, the workshop on Syntactic Issues in Language Acquisition will focus on:

  • the development of various aspects of syntax.
  • the syntactic, morphological and/or semantic interface in acquisition.
  • the relationship between language acquisition and syntactic variation and change.
  • the techniques used to elicit syntactic structures in acquisition research.
  • the interplay between the acquisition of syntax and processing systems.
  • how input issues play a role in the acquisition of syntax.