Date: 30 May 2009

Clausal order and the acquisition of Dutch deverbal compounds

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The purpose of this study was to explore how Dutch-speaking children acquire deverbal compounds, particularly in ordering verbs and nouns. English-speaking children form compounds like bottle breaker around 5–6 years of age and make noun-verb reversal errors at younger ages. These errors have been attributed to clausal ordering. Dutch allows more variations in clausal ordering, so Dutch-speaking children might acquire deverbal compounds differently from English-speaking children. In Study 1, we examined the input to a Dutch-speaking child between 4;8 and 5;2 and her compound acquisition. She heard a variety of clausal orderings, mostly with verbs before objects, and her deverbal compounds were already well acquired. In Study 2, we tested 24 Dutch-speaking preschool children’s production and comprehension of novel compounds. They produced many of the same forms as have been reported for English-speaking children, making reversal errors at around the same age. In Study 3, we compared a subset of the Dutch-speaking children with age-matched English monolingual children. We found a slight advantage for the Dutch-speaking children on production but no difference on comprehension. We argue that children’s ordering errors with OV-er compounds are not due to clausal word order but to ordering of other complex word forms.