Department of Linguistics
George Mason University
English subject-verb agreement: variability, representation and processing in acquisition
How do children represent and process morphosyntactic dependencies, and what can this tell us about acquisition? In this talk, I discuss two projects exploring children’s representation and real-time comprehension of English subject-verb number agreement. One set of results demonstrates that (a) both children and adults represent English number agreement as primarily (but not exclusively) syntactic. In a second line of work, I characterize the variability agreement neutralization creates in children’s input (e.g., “There’s shovels”), and argue that differences between adults’ and children’s use of the singular copula (is, ’s) in real-time comprehension provide support for early abstraction in acquisition. This work illustrates how dependencies can serve as a window into acquisition and the development of syntactic knowledge.