Learning basic morphosyntax in languages with case marking: Polish, Finnish and Estonian

Przeczytaj po polsku (Polish Version)

Cat chasing mouse vs Mouse chasing cat

We already know quite a lot about how English-speaking children learn to use word order to mark “who did what to whom” in basic transitive sentences e.g. The cat chased the mouse and The mouse chased the cat mean very different things (see Naigles, 1990; Gertner, Fisher & Eisengart, 2006; Noble, Rowland & Pine, 2011). This project explores how children learning languages with relatively flexible, pragmatic word order – specifically Polish, Finnish and Estonian – use case marking, in both comprehension and production, to do likewise.

The first strand of the project will use corpus analysis to assess whether children learning these languages rely less on lexical templates, e.g. I’m [ACTION]ing it, than do learners of languages with relatively fixed word order, such as English (Stoll et al, 2009).

The second strand will use forced-choice pointing and elicited production to investigate developmental changes in the abstractness of children’s knowledge of case-marking. For example, we expect that learners’ earliest knowledge will be tied to case-marked pronoun forms (e.g., He vs Him), and only later broaden out to encompass all nominative and accusative case markers.

The third strand will use computational modelling to simulate the developing abstractness of children’s use of case marking and word order cues in the two languages. 

Project Team: Ben Ambridge (Lead), Franklin Chang, Elena Lieven, Julian Pine, Joanna KolakAnna TheakstonSonia Granlund, Virve Vihman and Felix Engelmann

Start Date: March 2015

Duration: 3 years

(Work Package 13)