A statistical model of the grammatical choices in child production of dative sentences

Marie Catherine de Marneffe*, Scott Grimm, Inbal Arnon, Susannah Kirby, Joan Bresnan

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

38 Scopus citations


Focusing on children's production of the dative alternation in English, we examine whether children's choices are influenced by the same factors that influence adults' choices, and whether, like adults, they are sensitive to multiple factors simultaneously. We do so by using mixed-effect regression models to analyse child and child-directed datives extracted from the Child Language Data Exchange System corpus. Such models allow us to investigate the collective and independent effects of multiple factors simultaneously. The results show that children's choices are influenced by multiple factors (length of theme and recipient, nominal expression type of both, syntactic persistence) and pattern similarly to child-directed speech. Our findings demonstrate parallels between child and adult speech, consistent with recent acquisition research suggesting that there is a usage-based continuity between child and adult grammars. Furthermore, they highlight the utility of analysing children's speech from a multi-variable perspective, and portray a learner who is sensitive to the multiple cues present in her input.

Original languageAmerican English
Pages (from-to)25-61
Number of pages37
JournalLanguage and Cognitive Processes
Issue number1
StatePublished - Jan 2012
Externally publishedYes

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
Correspondence should be addressed to Marie-Catherine de Marneffe, Linguistics Department, Stanford University, Margaret Jacks Hall, Building 460, Stanford, CA 94305-2150, USA. E-mail: mcdm@stanford.edu This material is based in part upon work supported by the National Science Foundation under Grant No. IIS-0624345 to Stanford University for the research project ‘‘The Dynamics of Probabilistic Grammar’’ (PI Joan Bresnan). Any opinions, findings, and conclusions or recommendations expressed in this material are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the views of the National Science Foundation.


  • Dative alternation
  • Language acquisition
  • Language production
  • Multi-variable models


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