Recharting the Course of Language Acquisition: Studies in Elicited Production
A central goal of research on language acquisition is to explain the course of development: how the adult grammar is achieved on the basis of the linguistic input available to the learner. The knowledge that the learner brings to that task (including procedures for learning) often is called the language acquisition device (LAD). The linguistic input from parents and others is called the primary linguistic data (PLD). On the basis of these data, the LAD hypothesizes a series of grammars, the last of which is the adult grammar, or "final state." The entire process is represented schematically in Example 1:
Input (PLD) ..... LAD ..... Final State (1) Because language acquisition takes several years to complete, one thing to be explained is how child grammars change over time. The experiments presented in this chapter focus on one experimental design that has proven to be particularly useful in charting the time course of children's acquisition of syntax - the technique of elicited production. The syntactic constructions investigated in these experiments are not evident in children's spontaneous speech and, in some cases, have been found to pose difficulties for them in the usual tests of comprehension such as figure manipulation and picture verification. The technique of elicited production yields a new perspective on children's acquisition, one that is more in keeping with the precepts of current linguistic theory. Before turning to the laboratory, however, it is useful to consider several issues about the nature of language acquisition and note how these issues are resolved in current theory. As in any science, the data that warrant attention largely depend on the basic tenets of the
theory itself. The present article focuses on children’s knowledge of several syntactic phenomena that are central to the theory of Transformational/ Generative Grammar.