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J Child Lang. 2014 Jul;41(4):780-810. doi: 10.1017/S0305000913000196. Epub 2013 Jun 27.

Effects of focus and definiteness on children's word order: evidence from German five-year-olds' reproductions of double object constructions.

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University of Potsdam.


Two experiments tested how faithfully German children aged 4 ;5 to 5 ;6 reproduce ditransitive sentences that are unmarked or marked with respect to word order and focus (Exp1) or definiteness (Exp2). Adopting an optimality theory (OT) approach, it is assumed that in the German adult grammar word order is ranked lower than focus and definiteness. Faithfulness of children's reproductions decreased as markedness of inputs increased; unmarked structures were reproduced most faithfully and unfaithful outputs had most often an unmarked form. Consistent with the OT proposal, children were more tolerant against inputs marked for word order than for focus; in conflict with the proposal, children were less tolerant against inputs marked for word order than for definiteness. Our results suggest that the linearization of objects in German double object constructions is affected by focus and definiteness, but that prosodic principles may have an impact on the position of a focused constituent.

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