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How Known Constructions Influence the Acquisition of\ud Other Constructions: The German Passive and Future\ud Constructions

By Kirsten Abbot-Smith and Heike Behrens


This article suggests evidence for and reasons why prior acquisition may either facilitate or inhibit\ud acquisition of a new construction. It investigates acquisition of the German passive and future constructions\ud which contain a lexical verb with either the auxiliary sein “to be” or werden “to become,” and are\ud related through these to potential supporting constructions. We predicted that a supported construction\ud should be acquired earlier, faster, and unusually rapidly. An inhibited construction should show an extended\ud depressed usage.We analyzed a dense corpus of a German boy between 2;0 and 5;0. He acquired\ud the sein- before the werden-passive. The former was supported by his prior acquisition of the sein copula,\ud whereas the werden-passive itself supported one werden copula construction. He acquired the\ud werden-future extremely slowly due to the hindrance of a semantically identical construction. These results\ud fit with an emergentist approach in which apparently “sudden” acquisition is still due to gradual\ud learning mechanisms

Topics: H1
Publisher: Wiley
Year: 2006
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