Over-Generalization of Grammatical Constructions

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  • An over-generalization of a grammatical construction occurs when a child combines a particular construction and a particular verb to yield an utterance that would be considered ungrammatical by adult native speakers. Consider, for example, the English subject-verb-object transitive-causative construction (e.g., The man broke the vase). Children occasionally combine this construction with intransitive-only verbs such as laugh or disappear to yield over-generalization errors such as *The clown laughed the boy (= made the boy laugh) or * The magician disappeared the rabbit (= made the rabbit disappear), where * denotes an ungrammatical utterance. Melissa Bowerman's diary study, in which she recorded errors produced by her two daughters, is largely responsible for drawing the attention of the field to this phenomenon.

    Such errors are known as over-generalization errors ...

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