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Title: Pied-piping in embedded contexts in the acquisition of English

  1. Major Contributors: Claire Foley, Carrie Cathers, Leda Shultz, Nathan Keegan
  2. Lab (s) Name (s): Boston College Program in Linguistics
  3. URL:
  4. Coverage (countries): USA
  5. Languages: English, French
  6. Date: 5/17/11
  1. GENERAL PROJECT DESCRIPTION
    Pied-piping in embedded contexts in the acquisition of English
  2. PURPOSES OF THE PROJECT
    • To probe the interactions between verbal inflection higher clausal architecture in embedded contexts

    • To probe the syntax of movement and operator-variable binding in the contrasting environments of pied-piping and preposition stranding

    • To investigate the development of these components of syntactic knowledge, and how they interact, in first language acquisition
  3. LEADING QUESTIONS
    • Does knowledge of operator-variable binding continuously characterize the course of first language acquisition?

    • How does lexical learning (including the acquisition of surface manifestation of inflectional features) interact with knowledge of the syntax of operators in the course of acquisition?

    • What light can pied-piping and preposition-stranding shed on the development of knowledge of inflectional and CP features in first language acquisition?
  4. RATIONALE AND AGENDA
    The alternation between pied-piping and preposition-stranding offers a window into the interaction between phrase and clause structure (including inflectional and CP features) and movement. As Cowper (1987) notes, pied-piping may interact differently with main and embedded clause structure. In English, the alternation is also subject to the subtle variation across embedded clause types seen in (1)-(2), where wh-forms, prepositions, and verbal inflection all interact.

    (1) Tensed relative clause
    a. Eeyore pushes the boat [ behind which Pooh runs t ]
    b. Eeyore touches the boat [ Op Pooh runs behind t ]
    c. Eeyore touches the boat [ which Pooh runs behind t ]

    (2) Infinitival relative clause
    a. Pooh picks the blanket [ under which to rest t ]
    b. Pooh picks the blanket [Op to rest under t ]
    c. *Pooh picks the blanket [which to rest under t ]

    Pied-piping and preposition-stranding are thus a rich environment in which to test hypotheses about knowledge in first language acquisition of how inflectional and clausal features interact.
  5. PARTICULAR STUDIES
    Production study:
    Children acquiring English (80 children, ages 5;6-9;5) and 20 adults were tested in an elicited imitation experiment including tensed and infinitival relative clauses and embedded questions. The experiment tested the hypothesis that if pied-piping and preposition-stranding truly interact with both verbal inflection and clause structure, children’s production might distinguish pied-piping across embedded clause types. Pied-piping was imitated with less success overall than preposition-stranding, consistent with earlier work (French 1984, McDaniel and McKee 1996, McDaniel, McKee and Bernstein 1998). However, both the quantitative results and qualitative analysis of errors revealed that children distinguish pied-piping across the three embedded types. For example, the difference in percentage of “correct” imitations across pied-piping and preposition-stranding was much larger for infinitival relative clauses than for the two relative clause types (quantitative), and the specific types of structural changes children made differed across embedded clause types (qualitative).

    Comprehension study:
    In an exploratory study, 10 children acquiring English (ages 5;8-7;2) and 10 adults were tested in an act-out experiment including tensed and infinitival relative clauses and (as controls) coordinate and purpose clauses. Children interpreted pied-piping and preposition-stranding with similar success, but differentiated tensed and infinitival relative clauses in the types of errors they made. In an unexpected finding, telicity of the embedded predicate was linked to action order for tensed relative clauses: for telic VPs, the main clause was usually acted out first; for atelic, embedded first. Also, responses included an unexpected eventive reading for “Eeyore pushes the boat behind which Pooh runs,” wherein Eeyore pushes a boat as Pooh runs behind. Children thus draw on semantics and pragmatics in selecting relative clause attachment level (noun vs. clause).

    Cowper, E. 1987. Pied piping, feature percolation and the structure of the noun phrase. Canadian Journal of Linguistics, 32,4, 321-338.

    French, M. 1984. Markedness and the acquisition of pied-piping and preposition-stranding. McGill Working Papers in Lingusitics 2, 131-144.

    McDaniel, D., and McKee, C. 1996. Children’s oblique relatives. In Stringfellow, A., Cahana-Amitay, D., Hughes, E., and Zukowski, A. (eds.), Proceedings of the 20th annual Boston University Conference on Language Development. Somerville, MA: Cascadilla Press, 472-482.

    McDaniel, D., McKee, C., and Bernstein, J. 1998. How children’s relatives solve a problem for minimalism. Language 74, 308-334.
  6. CURRENT STATUS OF PROJECT
    Ongoing
  7. PEOPLE
  8. CONFERENCE PRESENTATIONS
    Foley, C. 1998. Feature movement and pied-piping in theory and acquisition. Paper presented at the 1998 Mid-America Linguistics Conference. Southern Illinois University, Edwardsville, IL, October 23, 1998.

    Foley, C., & Fugett-Fuller, A. 2002. Pied-piping in embedded clauses in the acquisition of English. Poster presented at the 33rd meeting of the North East Linguistic Society. MIT, Cambridge, MA, November 8, 2002.

    Foley, C. & Keegan, N. 2008. Pied-piping in embedded contexts in the acquisition of English: A qualitative study of comprehension. Poster presented at the 33rd Annual Boston University Conference on Language Development, October 31, 2008.
  9. PAPERS/BOOKS PUBLISHED
    Foley, C. 1998. Knowledge of operator syntax in first language acquisition: a study of pied-piping. In Li, X., Lopez, L., and Stroik, T., eds., Papers from the 1997 Mid-America Linguistics Conference. Columbia, MO: University of Missouri-Columbia, 144-155.

    Foley, C., and Fugett-Fuller, A. 2002. Pied-piping in embedded clauses in the acquisition of English. Poster at the NELS annual meeting, November 8, 2002.

    Foley, C. & Keegan, N. 2009. Pied-piping in embedded contexts in the acquisition of English: A qualitative study of comprehension. In Chandlee, J., Franchini, M., Lord, S. and Rheiner, M., eds., Online Supplement to the Proceedings of the 33rd Boston University Conference on Language Development. Available: http://www.bu.edu/linguistics/APPLIED/BUCLD/supp33.html
  10. PAPERS IN PREP
    “Pied piping across embedded clause types in the acquisition of English.”

    “What the act-out task reveals: VP semantics and order of act-out in embedded structures”