Language Acquisition: Semantics First and Syntax Late View
Linguists studying Language Acquisition deal with an unsolved debate about whether semantics appears before syntax during the course of language development. One of the popular ideas during 1960s and 1970s was that semantics appears before syntactic development. This is because child language almost up to 3 years is in the form of telegraphic speech, which is rich in semantic content, but poor in terms of syntax. The roles of agent, theme, etc. are clear in the speech, but function words are more or less lacking. The experience-driven accounts would suggest that syntax develops only with linguistic input. This is inevitably not supported by nativists who believe that syntactic constrains are set innate in the child.
In this regard, the earliest proposal was that during early stages, children arrange their words in semantic rather than syntactic categories (Macnamara, 1982). However, it was recorded that there is no miscategorization of mass and count nouns. Incorrect pluralization of mass nouns is also extremely low (Gordon, 1985). Gordon reasoned that if the word categories expressed by children were semantic and not syntactic, then miscategorization of the exceptions to the general case of mass and count nouns should be common, but no evidence in support of this was recorded and in his experiments, children as young as 2 years placed count and mass nouns in the correct syntactic categories.
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