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The development of complex verb constructions in British Sign Language

Morgan, G., Herman, R. and Woll, B. (2002). The development of complex verb constructions in British Sign Language. Journal of Child Language, 29(3), pp. 655-675. doi: 10.1017/S0305000902005184


This study focuses on the mapping of events onto verb-argument structures in British Sign Language (BSL). The development of complex sentences in BSL is described in a group of 30 children, aged 3;2–12;0, using data from comprehension measures and elicited sentence production. The findings support two interpretations: firstly, in the mapping of concepts onto language, children acquiring BSL overgeneralize the use of argument structure related to perspective shifting;secondly, these overgeneralizations are predicted by the typological characteristics of the language and modality. Children under age 6;0, in attempting to produce sentences encoded through a perspective shift, begin by breaking down double-verb constructions (AB verbs) into components, producing only the part of the verb phrase which describes the perspective of the patient. There is also a prolonged period of development of non-manual features, with the full structure not seen in its adult form until after 9;0. The errors in the use of AB verbs and the subsequent protracted development of correct usage are explained in terms of the conceptual–linguistic interface.

Publication Type: Article
Subjects: P Language and Literature > P Philology. Linguistics
Departments: School of Health Sciences > Language & Communication Science
Date available in CRO: 26 Sep 2011 13:20
Date of first online publication: 2002
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