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Start Date

8-5-2020 12:00 AM

Document Type

Oral Presentation

Department

Linguistics

Advisor

Dana McDaniel, PhD

Abstract

The passive voice, a relatively infrequent structure, is illustrated in (1), with its active counterpart in (2).

(1) The girl was seen by the boy.
(2) The boy saw the girl.

The object of the active construction becomes the subject of the passive sentence, and the subject of the active is omitted or, in English, appears as the object of the preposition ‘by’. Young children (under age 5) tend to perform poorly on comprehension tasks testing the passive. The error children commonly make is to interpret the sentence like an active. Although the findings on children’s comprehension of the passive are similar cross-linguistically, Kyuchokov & de Villiers (2017) found that Romani-speaking 3 to 4-year-old children did surprisingly well on a comprehension task. They point out that the difference cannot be due to frequency, because the passive structure is highly infrequent in adult Romani. They leave the cross-linguistic difference as an open question. I explore the possibility that the difference is due to the expression of the equivalent of ‘by’, which clearly indicates source in Romani, unlike in some other languages, where it has multiple meanings. Using a picture selection task, I examine the possible effect of the preposition ‘by’ on English speaking children’s performance on the passive. Participants are given a variety of stimuli including grammatical active and passive sentences as well as passives in which ‘by’ is replaced with ‘from’, the English preposition that marks source.

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May 8th, 12:00 AM

Acquisition of the Passive in Child Language

The passive voice, a relatively infrequent structure, is illustrated in (1), with its active counterpart in (2).

(1) The girl was seen by the boy.
(2) The boy saw the girl.

The object of the active construction becomes the subject of the passive sentence, and the subject of the active is omitted or, in English, appears as the object of the preposition ‘by’. Young children (under age 5) tend to perform poorly on comprehension tasks testing the passive. The error children commonly make is to interpret the sentence like an active. Although the findings on children’s comprehension of the passive are similar cross-linguistically, Kyuchokov & de Villiers (2017) found that Romani-speaking 3 to 4-year-old children did surprisingly well on a comprehension task. They point out that the difference cannot be due to frequency, because the passive structure is highly infrequent in adult Romani. They leave the cross-linguistic difference as an open question. I explore the possibility that the difference is due to the expression of the equivalent of ‘by’, which clearly indicates source in Romani, unlike in some other languages, where it has multiple meanings. Using a picture selection task, I examine the possible effect of the preposition ‘by’ on English speaking children’s performance on the passive. Participants are given a variety of stimuli including grammatical active and passive sentences as well as passives in which ‘by’ is replaced with ‘from’, the English preposition that marks source.

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