How do kids choose their syntax?

Marie-Catherine de Marneffe, Scott Grimm, Uriel Cohen Priva, Sander Lestrade, Gorkem Ozbek, Tyler Schnoebelen, Susannah Kirby, Misha Becker, Vivienne Fong and Joan Bresnan. 2007. "A statistical model of grammatical choices in children’s production of dative sentences." Formal Approaches to Variation in Syntax, University of York, England.

 "Give me the ball" vs. "Give the ball to me"

"Give me the ball" vs. "Give the ball to me"

One of the most well-studied questions in child language acquisition is what type of knowledge children possess to guide their syntactic production. 

Some posit that children are able to construct abstract representations to facilitate the acquisition of specific items, whereas others take the specific items as primary, claiming children learn each construction individually as anchored to a specific lexical item.

A less frequently pursued question is what is the range of influential factors which weigh upon a child’s production choice. Understanding which factors potentially motivate children’s production choices will broaden the context in which one can pursue questions about children’s acquisition of syntactic production capacity.

For instance, it is becoming increasingly clear that adult production is sensitive to multiple factors, including both discourse and grammatical factors (see representative studies by Wasow (2002), Szmrecsanyi (2005), Jaeger (2006), Hinrichs & Szmrecsanyi (2007) and references therein). It is thus important to test whether such factors play a role in children’s syntax, so as to gain a better understanding of what factors are at stake in the acquisition process.