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Journal Article

The acquisition of English dative constructions


Tomasello,  Michael       
Department of Developmental and Comparative Psychology, Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology, Max Planck Society;

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Campbell, A. L., & Tomasello, M. (2001). The acquisition of English dative constructions. Applied Psycholinguistics, 22(2), 253-267.

Cite as: https://hdl.handle.net/11858/00-001M-0000-0010-091D-1
We analyzed the three main types of English dative constructions – the double-object dative, the to dative, and the for dative – in the spontaneous speech of seven children from the age of 1;6 to 5;0. The main findings were as follows. First, the double-object dative was acquired by most of the children before either of the prepositional datives; this was attributed to the greater frequency with which children heard this construction with individual verbs. Second, the verbs children used with these constructions were not only the adult prototypical ones, but also a number of the less prototypical ones; again, this was very likely due to their frequency and saliency in the language children heard. Third, no support was found for Ninio's (1999) analysis of the emergence of constructions in terms of a single “pathbreaking” verb; rather, children began using the double-object dative with many different verbs and did not follow the trajectory proposed by Ninio (i.e., a single verb is used for some months before an “explosion” of new verbs is introduced in the construction). Finally, most of the verbs initially used in the three dative constructions were first used in other constructions (e.g., a simple transitive); this was even true for some obligatory datives, such as give and show. The current results provide a starting point for determining the underlying representations for the different kinds of dative constructions and for explicating how children understand the interrelations among these and other constructions.