Chapter 4. Relative clause acquisition in Hebrew and the learning of constructions

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In this chapter, I outline the developmental path of relative clauses in Hebrew while asking more general questions about how constructions are learned. I argue that Hebrew-speaking children show a gradual expansion of uses that is sensitive to the distributional patterns in their input. This pattern, found both in comprehension and production, is consistent with usage-based predictions about how constructions are learned. Taking Hebrew relative clauses as a case-study, I show how children’s own uses become more semantically and structurally complex, and how their understanding develops to rely less on morphological cues. By looking closely at production and comprehension patterns we can see that children’s use of relative clauses, like that of other constructions, develops gradually over time in ways that are sensitive to language-general and language specific cues. Finally, I suggest that the frequency of multi-word sequences (larger than one lexical word) plays a role in children’s expansion of uses: Other things being equal, children prefer to produce construction variants with a higher chunk frequency.


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