Thursday 29 November – Caitlin Meyer

Speaker: Caitlin Meyer (University of Amsterdam)
Title: Rule and order: using structure to acquire ordinal numerals
Date: Thursday 29 November
Venue: Van Eyckhof 3/002
Time: 15.15-16.30 hrs
drinks: Cafe de Keyzer

This talk compares the acquisition of ordinals in Dutch and English, and argues that both groups of learners acquire ordinals in a rule-based fashion. This claim is based on data from 250 children (2;08–6;04), which show that children acquire irregular ordinals (such as derde ‘third’) after they acquire regular synthetic forms (such as vierde ‘fourth’) and even after analytic ordinals (e.g., boot zes ‘boat six’). This may seem unsurprising or even obvious: it only makes sense for children to prefer rule-based forms. Or does it?
This pattern is actually quite puzzling: children seem to skip a lexical learning stage before acquiring their ordinal rule. This makes ordinal acquisition unlike cardinal acquisition (where lexical learning is key, e.g., Le Corre & Carey 2007), and unlike the acquisition of inflectional or derivational morphology (where children initially store morphologically complex forms, cf. Clark 2104, Yang 2016). This begs the question: if not from stored evidence, where does this rule come from and how does this rule learning actually work? I argue that the interplay between transparent linguistic knowledge and abstract concepts is just the recipe for children to cook up ordinal meaning from structural ingredients.

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