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Rethinking Verb Second$
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Rebecca Woods and Sam Wolfe

Print publication date: 2020

Print ISBN-13: 9780198844303

Published to Oxford Scholarship Online: June 2020

DOI: 10.1093/oso/9780198844303.001.0001

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The role of variation of verb placement in the input

The role of variation of verb placement in the input

Evidence from the acquisition of Verb Second and verb-final German relative clauses

(p.790) 34 The role of variation of verb placement in the input
Rethinking Verb Second

Emanuela Sanfelici

Corinna Trabandt

Petra Schulz

Oxford University Press

This chapter focuses on the acquisition of verb placement in German relative clauses (RCs). Under specific licensing conditions RCs allow for variation in word order: The finite verb can surface either in final or in second position; instances of the latter position are referred to as iV2 structures. To address the question of how children deal with this alternation in the Primary Linguistic Data, a picture-supported delayed-imitation task was developed requiring the repetition of iV2 structures and verb-final RCs, and 23 monolingual German-speaking children aged 3;0 to 3;9 and 21 adults were tested. Children repeated significantly more V-final than iV2 structures correctly and exhibited a robust preference for verb-final RCs over iV2 structures, changing verb placement from V2 to verb-final significantly more often than from verb-final to V2. Adults repeated both verb-final RCs and iV2 structures target-like. It is argued that in the case of variation in the primary linguistic data children opt for the underspecified value that stands in a superset relationship with the other variant. It is proposed that children’s preference for verb-final verb placement, i.e. the superset value, results from the interplay between two factors: (a) an economy-based learning strategy and (b) an early underspecified COMP domain.

Keywords:   verb placement, variation, relative clause, German, acquisition

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