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Minimality effects in children’s passives

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Abstract

Many studies find true verbal passives in English acquired only after age four, but some find three-year-olds fully adultlike. We explain this discrepancy using Relativized Minimality (RM, Rizzi 2004). Collins (2005a) argues the passive involves movement of the logical object across the logical subject (either PRO, or a lexical DP with ‘by’), and normally this requires smuggling. We propose smuggling is maturationally unavailable until age four. Three-year-olds succeed only if the intervener is eliminated, as in certain Romance reflexive-clitic constructions; or if +Topic/+WH on the logical object can prevent an RM violation, as in certain studies of the English passive. Following Grillo (2008), we explain the still-later acquisition of non-actional passives by their need for both smuggling and semantic coercion.

References

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