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Abstract Bitter & Siegmüller

Acquisition of Verbs and Development of Sentence Structure in German Impaired and Unimpaired Children

Arguing for Golinkoff et al.’s (1995) Principle of Reference as a general principle for lexical acquisition and under the lexical bootstrapping hypothesis, we aim to investigate the role of verb-meaning types in German impaired and unimpaired acquisition of utterance structure. According to the Principle of Reference, words with higher referential capacity (e.g., concrete nouns, but also semantically more specific verbs that include information about required arguments) are acquired more easily and earlier than words with no or less referential capacity (e.g. abstract nouns, so-called light/general verbs, or grammatical words).

We investigate longitudinal data of one normally developing child (Caroline from the CHILDES corpus) and one SLI child (Bastian, our own corpus). We hypothesize that the very slow language development of the SLI child might give some clues to the question whether the acquisition of lexical verbs and their semantics bootstrapps the acquisition of sentence frames – what would be in line with the lexical bootstrapping hypothesis – or vice versa – what would be in line with the syntactic bootstrapping hypothesis (Gleitman 1990) –, or whether both levels cooperate in a general or specific way with respect to light/general and semantically more specific verbs. We analyse which types of verbs and verb forms in which types of sentence frames are attested in Caroline’s data in the age range from 2;4 to 2;6, i.e., when finite use of lexical verbs starts to increase. The resulting data build the base for the analysis of Bastian’s data between 3;10-4;5 (finite use of lexical verbs starts at about 3;8). Former analyses of the early lexicon (Bittner 2005, Siegmüller 2005) and of the emergence of verbal morphology (Bittner 2006) in Bastian’s data revealed a very slow progress in the acquisition of grammatical forms, verb inflection, and syntactic complexity of utterances.

Our central goal is to find out whether and to which extent verb-meaning types (i.e., related to the opposition light/general verbs vs. semantically more specific verbs) of a language can be one of the factors responsible for developmental differences in the acquisition of (a) syntactic complexity of utterances, and (b) order of acquisition of types of sentence frames. Our null-hypothesis is: The acquisition of (a) syntactically complete utterances and (b) sentence frames is related to the factors (a) the acquisition of finiteness and (b) the types of verbs a child has productive command of, respectively.



Bittner, D. (2005). Lack of function words at 2;0: A predictor of future SLI? Paper presented at at the 10th IASCL Congress, Berlin, July 25-29, 2005.

Bittner, D. (2006). The acquisition of verb inflection and finiteness in German under SLI. Paper presented at the 12th International Morphology Meeting, Budapest.

Gleitman, L. R. (1990). The structural sources of verb meanings. Language Acquisition, 1, 3-55.

Golinkoff, R. M., et al. (1995). Lexical principles can be extended to the acquisition of verbs. In: M. Tomasello & W. Merriman (eds.), Beyond names for things: Young children's acquisition of verbs. Hillsdale, N.J., Lawrence Earlbaum Associates: 185-222.

Siegmüller, J. (2005). Early lexical development in a later SLI child. Paper presented at the 10th IASCL Congress, Berlin, July 25-29, 2005.