The Weekly Newsletter of MIT Linguistics

ESSL/Language Acquisition Lab 10/14 - William Snyder

Speaker: William Snyder (UConn)
Title: Relativized Minimality in Children’s Passives
When: October 14, 2015, 5pm – 6:30pm
Where: 32-D461

The acquisition literature on English passives is strikingly inconsistent. Many studies have found that children under age four have considerable difficulty with unequivocally verbal passives, and that children as old as six are still struggling with passives of non-actional verbs. Yet, a small number of studies (e.g. Pinker, Lebeaux & Frost 1987) find adult-like performance on both the comprehension and the production of passives, including the passives of both actional and non-actional verbs, in children as young as three. In this talk I will present a proposal from Snyder & Hyams (2015) that aims to make sense of these inconsistencies. A key observation is that the studies finding early success are precisely the ones that motivate a discourse-related feature such as [+Topic] or [+Focus] on the derived subject. The Snyder-Hyams account combines Rizzi’s (2004) version of Relativized Minimality with proposals from Collins (2005) and Grillo (2007); and leads to a number of novel predictions, as I would like to discuss.