Critical Influences on the Acquisition of Verb Transitivity
The study of language acquisition within the generative grammar paradigm initially, as pointed out by Harris (this volume), tended to downgrade environmental influences. More recently, learnability theory (cf. Atkinson, 1986 and references therein) has viewed grammar acquisition as an interaction between, on the one hand, allegedly innate linguistic principles and, on the other, syntactic input data provided by the linguistic environment in which learners find themselves. At the same time, linguists (Chomsky, 1981, Rizzi, 1986, Stowell, 1981) have come to place an ever-growing share of the responsibility for generating syntactic structures on the grammatically relevant properties of lexical items. Now the lexicon is generally considered to provide an interface between linguistic and general cognitive domains. There is therefore a need to examine what role non-linguistic input data might play in the acquisition of syntactically relevant lexical properties. This article will argue that syntactic input data are at best of secondary importance in the acquisition of lexical representations for transitive verbs: cognitively available thematic roles in the non-linguistic input data appear to determine verb transitivity.
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