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The development of complex verb constructions in British Sign Language

Morgan, G., Herman, R. & 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 & Psychological Sciences > Language & Communication Science
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