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Intervention Effects in the Acquisition of Raising and Control: Evidence from English and Spanish


This dissertation investigates the delays observed in the acquisition of raising with seem-type verbs (e.g. Mary seems to John _ to be cautious) and control with promise-type verbs (e.g. Mary promises John _ to be cautious), two constructions which involve an interpretative dependency between the matrix subject and the unpronounced embedded subject, and an argument intervening between the two.

One prominent explanation for the difficulties with these constructions holds that it is related to the presence of the intervening argument. Crucially for this type of accounts, an intervener is possible with Spanish prometer ‘promise’, but not with the modal-like verb parecer ‘seem’. The experiments of this dissertation were designed to answer the following questions: i) are the delays observed in these constructions due to intervention effects? If so, ii) are they grammar- or processing-based? and iii) if they are grammar-based, is the machinery used to by-pass the intervener the same in raising and control?

The results obtained from the raising experiments (Chapter 3) reveal that Spanish-speaking children comprehend sentences with raising parecer by age four, while English-speaking children experience difficulties with raising seem until at least age six – even when the intervening argument is not overtly produced. This cross-linguistic asymmetry suggests that the (overt or covert) intervening argument is the root of the difficulty. Consistent with intervention accounts, the results obtained from the control experiments (Chapter 4) reveal that both English- and Spanish-speaking children show difficulties comprehending control with promise/prometer until at least age six.

Regarding our second question, an in-depth look into the raising and control data reveal two different groups of children: i) below-chance group: children who lack the grammatical means to circumvent the intervening argument and ii) chance and above-chance group: children who have an adult grammar system but still experience difficulties due to their immature processing system. We refer to this as the Dual Source Intervention hypothesis. Crucially, our results do not show a correlation between performance on raising and control in all children. Some perform below chance with raising and above chance with control and some vice-versa, showing a grammatical dissociation between these two constructions.

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