A statistical model of the grammatical choices in child production of dative sentences
Focusing on children’s production of the dative alternation in English, we examine whether children’s choices are influenced by the same factors that influence adults’ choices, and whether, like adults, they are sensitive to multiple factors simultaneously. We do so by using mixed-effect regression models to analyse child and child-directed datives extracted from the Child Language Data Exchange System corpus. Such models allow us to investigate the collective and independent effects of multiple factors simultaneously. The results show that children’s choices are influenced by multiple factors (length of theme and recipient, nominal expression type of both, syntactic persistence) and pattern similarly to child-directed speech. Our findings demonstrate parallels between child and adult speech, consistent with recent acquisition research suggesting that there is a usage-based continuity between child and adult grammars. Furthermore, they highlight the utility of analysing children’s speech from a multi-variable perspective, and portray a learner who is sensitive to the multiple cues present in her input.