The ontogeny of complex verb phrases

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This paper investigate the acquisition of V-complement constructions (complex VPs) by English-speaking children ca. age 1;8-to-2;9. It suggests that the child acquires these constructions during intensive epistemic or deontic <b>modal negotiations</b> with the adult. In the earliest stage, the main-plus-complement construction is spread over adjacent child-adult or adult-child conversational turns ( Ochs <i>et al</i>. 1979). The early precursor of the complex VP construction is thus <b>paratactic</b>, with the two clauses falling under separate intonation contours. Only later on is the construction condensed into a complex <b>syntactic</b> construction under a single intonation contour, produced by the child alone. The early use of these constructions is as <b>direct speech acts</b>, be they epistemic or deontic (Diessel 2005), whereby the semantic focus resides in the complement clause, and the main clause acts as a modal operator. But this is true of both the children and their adult interlocutors, and is also characteristic, at the text-frequency level, of adult oral language (Thomson 2001). However, this characterization of complex VPs is semantic rather than syntactic.

  • Affiliations: 1: University of Oregon



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