The 2016 University of Toronto Interdisciplinary Symposium on the Mind (UTism) is occurring over the first weekend in February at the Earth Sciences Building. This year's theme is 'Work in progress: The cognitive science of development'. Our department is one of the secondary sponsors; faculty member Ana-Teresa Pérez-Leroux is one of the speakers (and, later on, panellists). Her talk is entitled 'The mystery of developmental timing', and is at 10 AM on the Saturday. See the website for more details.
The onset and development of language is temporally robust in human children. Principal milestones such as onset of speech, emergence of productive syntax, and development of complex structures roughly occur at the same ages across cultures and languages, despite the wide range of variation in the formal properties of the various linguistic systems and in styles of maternal interaction. Beyond this gross characterization we observe individual differences across children, and variation in the acquisition of various linguistic properties. Within given languages timing and ordering in the emergence of grammatical forms or constructions seems generally robust. Timing is thought to depend on frequency and distributional characteristics of the input, and on perceptual and formal complexity. Yet, for each reasonable characterization of a factor that determines timing of acquisition, important counterexamples emerge. In this presentation I review some of the known observations about timing in language acquisition, including some data on agreement, clitics, and construal. This will serve as a background for discussing preschoolers’ mastery of a great grammatical challenge, the acquisition of nominal recursion, i.e., the ability to nest noun phrases within phrases of the same kind.