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Frequency and function in WH question acquisition. A usage-based case study of German L1 acquisition

26 November 2009

PhD ceremony: R.G.A. Steinkrauss, 14.45 uur, Academiegebouw, Broerstraat 5, Groningen

Thesis: Frequency and function in WH question acquisition. A usage-based case study of German L1 acquisition

Promotor(s): prof.dr. C.L.J. de Bot

Faculty: Arts

Contact: Rasmus Steinkrauss, tel. 06-337 886 36, e-mail:

Rasmus Steinkrauss studied the early stages of first language acquisition. In particular, he studied the impact of the input, which is the language a child hears, on what a child says. Simply put, in usage-based linguistics it is assumed that the more often a child hears something, the earlier and more often the child is going to say it. This applies not only to single words but also to word combinations (‘constructions’) such as “where are…”. Steinkrauss shows that this is not always the case. Using a very dense database of a boy learning German, he followed the boy’s early language development, especially the development of WH-questions, closely for one year (age 2-3) and show that not only input frequency, but also the function of linguistic constructions and the previous linguistic knowledge of the child play a role. For example, even if a construction is very frequent in the input, the child might not use it because the construction does not serve any useful function for the child, because the child already knows a construction fulfilling the same function, or because the child does not know a more basic construction that the new construction builds on. This shows that input frequency interacts with other factors in language acquisition.

Moreover, Steinkrauss shows that the acquisition of German differs from that of English because of the different composition of the input, and that the size of the corpus has a clear impact on the analysis of input frequency.

Last modified:15 September 2017 3.39 p.m.
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