Child language as evidence for grammatical description: Preschoolers’ construal of transitivity in the verb system of Hebrew

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Abstract

Accepted analyses of the binyan system of verb patterns in Hebrew are reviewed, and an alternative analysis is suggested, claiming that: (i) the system is more regular and productive in current usage than is generally conceded; and (ii) the traditional division of Hebrew grammars and lexicography between verbs and nonverbs is well-motivated (Section 1). Evidence for these claims is provided by two types of nonstandard usage in the speech of Israeli children aged four to six: a) errors of pattern-mixing, where a given verb-root is used in an inappropriate pattern - in terms of the current adult lexicon of Hebrew - to express notions of causation, reflexivity, reciprocality, and of passive or middle voice; and b) innovative verbs created by children to fill gaps in their lexicon (Section 2). It transpires that these deviations from the adult norm are non-random, being clearly divided along the axis of transitivity; thus, children treat verbs as either: active, transitive, causative OR passive, intransitive, reflexive j reciprocal, grouping them in ways which correspond to a natural, structurally motivated division of verbs into major morphosyntactic pattern classes. The implications of these findings are considered (in Section 3) with respect to the grammatical analysis of the root-plus-pattern based lexicon of Hebrew, the nature of the Hebrew verb system and how it relates to nonverbal elements of the lexicon, and the more general issue of language change.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)677-702
Number of pages26
JournalLinguistics
Volume18
Issue number7-8
DOIs
StatePublished - 1980

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