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Argument Intervention in the Acquisition of A-movement


This dissertation investigates the acquisition of subject-to-subject raising (StSR) in English. The goal is twofold: to determine whether StSR predicates that permit experiencers (1) are delayed relative to those which do not (2), and to link the acquisition of StSR to that of other A-movement structures.

(1) William seems (to Leonard) to be dancing.

(2) William {is about/is going/tends} (*to Leonard) to be dancing.

(3) William was seen (by Leonard).

This work is inspired by a dichotomy in the acquisition of A-movement: children are delayed in acquiring adult comprehension of verbal passives (3) (Slobin 1966, a.o.) and StSR with experiencer-type predicates (1) (Hirsch, Orfitelli and Wexler 2008, a.o.), but they are not delayed with all A-movement. For example, in active sentences, subjects undergo A-movement out of the verbal domain (e.g. Koopman and Sportiche 1991), yet children have no difficulties correctly placing the subject outside the VP (Stromswold 1996). How can children's delay be defined such that it only impacts certain A-movement structures?

In this dissertation, I present findings from seven experimental studies which reveal that children comprehend and produce StSR with non-experiencer predicates (2) by four years old, while remaining selectively delayed on StSR with experiencer predicates until as late as six. Further, a within-subjects comparison of finds an over 96% correspondence between the development of comprehension of verbal passives and experiencer-type StSR. This data suggests that children have no a priori difficulty with the process of A-movement itself; rather, their difficulty is caused by a specific trait that experiencer StSR and verbal passives share.

I take the relevant trait to be A-movement over the experiencer and by-phrase arguments, and propose the Argument Intervention Hypothesis (AIH): children are delayed in acquiring those structures which require A-movement across an intervening argument; namely, those which seem to violate Relativized Minimality (RM, Rizzi 1990) or a similar alternative formulation.

The AIH successfully captures the acquisition time course of several A-movement structures, including those described above. It also makes clear predictions about which untested A-movement structures are expected to be acquired late, both within English and cross-linguistically: children should be delayed in all structures that involve A-movement across an intervening argument.

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