The acquisition of adverbs
This dissertation is a comparative study of the acquisition of three types of adverbs by English-speaking children and Spanish-speaking children. The three classes of adverbs studied are: the adverb almost and its Spanish equivalent casi; manner adverbs like upside down or cabeza abajo; and manner adverbs. The goal of this dissertation is to determine how children interpret sentences with these adverbs and to study the syntactic and semantic principles and strategies they use.
For each of the three classes of adverbs studied, two hypotheses were tested: one concerning the position these adverbs occupy in the syntactic structure and the other related to the interpretation that children give to sentences containing these adverbs. It was hypothesized that children will try to attach the adverb as high as possible in the syntactic structure but at the same time they will obey principles of Universal Grammar. It was hypothesized that children's interpretations will not be the same as adults. In sentences with the adverbs almost/casi they will favor the event-failure interpretation. In sentences with true manner adverbs the hypothesis is that they will interpret them as such independently of their position in the sentence. Finally, in sentences with the adverbs upside down and cabeza abajo they will obey barriers and therefore they will not allow certain interpretations.
A series of three experiments was designed to test the hypotheses. Two of the experiments were designed as truth-value judgment tasks, and the third was designed as an act-out task. These experiments were presented to children from 3 to 6 years of age who spoke either English or Spanish.
The data have shown that children obey barriers when trying to extract adverbs out of complex NPs and that syntactic position plays a role in children's interpretation of sentences with adverbs. It was also shown that children try to avoid movement at LF so they try to make syntax mirror LF. No substantial differences were found between English-speaking children and Spanish-speaking children. The few differences found were explained in terms of the specific features of one of the adverbs.