Selective learning the acquisition of Kannada ditransitives

Joshua Viau, Jeffrey Lidz

In this paper we bring evidence from language acquisition to bear on the debate over the relative abstractness of children’s grammatical knowledge. We first identify one aspect of syntactic representation that exhibits a range of syntactic, morphological and semantic consequences both within and across languages, namely the hierarchical structure of ditransitive verb phrases. While the semantic consequences of this structure are parallel in English, Kannada, and Spanish, the word order and morphological reflexes of this structure diverge. Next we demonstrate that children learning Kannada have command of the relation between morphological form and semantic interpretation in ditransitives with respect to quantifier-variable binding. Finally, we offer a proposal on how a selective learning mechanism might succeed in identifying the appropriate structures in this domain despite the variability in surface expression.