Proceedings of IATL 20

One of the most influential accounts regarding the acquisition of syntax claims that A-chains mature only at around the age of 4 or even 5 years (Borer & Wexler, 1987). Is it really the case that young children cannot produce structures that involve A-chains? The current study tested whether young children can already produce sentences with movement from object to subject position, using unaccusatives. In Hebrew, both SV and VS orders are used with unaccusatives. This optionality allows for the testing of the maturation of A-chains: if indeed young children do not master A-chains, they are expected to produce unaccusatives in their base-generated order, and produce VS but not SV order. If they assign unaccusatives an interpretation of unergatives, they are expected to produce unaccusatives and unergatives in the same word orders. We conducted 7 experiments that assessed the ability of 1;6-4;0 year-old Hebrew-speakers to produce sentences with unaccusative and unergative verbs using sentence repetition, story retelling and analysis of spontaneous speech. The results indicated that children younger than 4 and even younger than 2 years old can already move the argument of unaccusatives from object to subject position, and that they assign it an interpretation of an internal argument (because they can use it with possessive datives). They also distinguish between unaccusative and unergative verbs, and use both VS and SV order for unaccusatives, but only SV order for unergatives. This led us to conclude that children younger than two years can already produce sentences that are derived by A-chains.

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