Applied Psycholinguistics


Slot and frame patterns and the development of the determiner category

Julian M. Pinea1 c1 and Elena V. M. Lievena2

a1 University of Nottingham

a2 University Of Manchester


There has been a growing trend in recent years toward the attribution of adultlike syntactic categories to young, language-learning children. This has derived support from studies which claim to have found positive evidence for syntactic categories in the speech of young children (e.g., Valian, 1986). However, these claims contradict the findings of previous research which have suggested that the categories underlying children's early multiword speech are much more limited in scope (e.g., Braine, 1976). The present study represents an attempt to differentiate and test these models of early multiword speech: focusing on the syntactic category of determiner, we investigated the extent to which 11 children showed overlap in the contexts in which they used different determiner types in their early multiword corpora. The results demonstrated that, although children do use determiners with a semantically heterogeneous collection of different noun types, there is very little evidence that they know anything about the relationship between the different determiner types, and thus there is no real case for the attribution of a syntactic determiner category. Indeed, this pattern of determiner use seems perfectly consistent with a limited-scope formula account of children's early multiword speech, as proposed by Braine (1976). These findings suggest that the development of an adultlike determiner category may be a gradual process, one involving the progressive broadening of the range of lexically specific frames in which different determiners appear, and are broadly consistent with a number of recent constructivist models of children's early grammatical development.


c1 Julian M. Pine, Department of Psychology, University of Nottingham, Nottingham NG7 2RD, United Kingdom