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The emergence of DP in the partitive structure

Helen Stickney, University of Massachusetts Amherst


This dissertation is a first look at English-speaking children’s acquisition of the syntax of the partitive. It presents four experiments that contrast three types of structures and examines how they interact with adjectival modification: the partitive, the pseudopartitive and complex nouns with prepositional adjuncts. The experimentation investigates whether children recognize that the Determiner Phrase (DP) in the partitive is a barrier to adjectival modification. The partitive is contrasted with the pseudopartitive –a minimal pair structure that lacks an internal DP. The data shows that children under the age of six do not distinguish between the partitive and the pseudopartitive. They allow adjectives preceding the partitive to modify the second noun; this is standardly considered licit for the pseudopartitive structure, but not the partitive. This result is evidence that children are under-representing the syntax of the partitive and of DP. Syntactic representations of minimal DP and minimal partitive structures are suggested and it is argued that these structures may persist as an option in the adult grammar.

Subject Area

Linguistics|Developmental psychology|Cognitive psychology

Recommended Citation

Stickney, Helen, "The emergence of DP in the partitive structure" (2009). Doctoral Dissertations Available from Proquest. AAI3380028.