Journal of Child Language

Notes and Discussion

The countering of overgeneralization

a1 Department of Psychology, University of Strathclyde


Commenting on Goldberg's (1995) ‘construction grammar’, Tomasello (1998) proposes a model of language acquisition in which children move from highly specific utterance–event pairings to abstract, verb-general structures. Despite their many strengths, models of this kind predict considerably more overgeneralization of the argument structures of verbs than seems to occur. In recognition of this, the paper explains (and supports with data from a previously unpublished study of 44 children aged 2;0 to 4;4) how processes which are side effects of the emergence of the verb form class could counter the overgeneralizing tendencies. It is argued that these processes are consistent not just with the model proposed by Tomasello but also (in large part) with the grammatical theory developed by Goldberg.

(Received October 14 1999)
(Revised October 1 2001)

c1 The research reported here was funded by British Academy award BA-AN2124/APN2651. Thanks are due to the British Academy for their support, to Jenny Low and Andy Noble for help with data collection and analysis, and to the children who participated in the research and their parents and teachers. Address for correspondence: Professor Christine Howe, Department of Psychology, University of Strathclyde, 40 George Street, Glasgow G1 1QE, Scotland. e-mail: