A Grammar Inclusion Hypothesis of child language variation

In: Journal of Greek Linguistics
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  • 1 University of Crete
  • 2 University of the Aegean


This paper examines variation in language development based on production data from three Greek-speaking children. Variation suggests that children employ more than one grammar during the acquisition process. This naturally raises the question of how ‘unwanted’ grammars gradually give way to the one that relates to the adult/target grammar. To account for variation, we implement partial ordering (Anttila 1997a, 1997b) to Tzakosta’s (2004) Multiple Parallel Grammars model of language development. More specifically, we propose that, in the intermediate stage of acquisition, constraint permutation of the initial Markedness » Faithfulness ranking leads to grammar explosion. We view the resulting grammars as partial orders that contain sets of totally ranked grammars (subgrammars). The pivotal claim is that only those subgrammars that are typologically closer to the target one will eventually survive. This is stated as the Grammar Inclusion Hypothesis. The theoretical gain of the proposed model is that it provides a principled basis to define developmental paths and also to distinguish between smart and non-smart paths. The latter are partial orders that do not contain the target grammar as a total order and hence are doomed to extinction. The former, on the other hand, are partial orders that contain at least one total order that relates to the target grammar and, crucially, connect the running state of acquisition with the end state of language development. Our hypothesis finds empirical support by both inter-child and intra-child language acquisition data.

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