Early Understanding of Subject and Object Wh-Questions

Authors


Department of Audiology and Speech Sciences, Heavilon Hall, Purdue University, West Lafayette, IN 47907. E-mail: seidl@cogsci.jhu.edu

Abstract

In this study, we used the splitscreen preferential looking paradigm to test 13-, 15-, and 20-month-olds' developing understanding of simple matrix what-questions of the forms “What hit the X?” (subject-question) and “What did the X hit?” (object-question). Infants responded appropriately to subject-questions by 15 months of age, and to both subject- and object-questions by 20 months. At no age did infants look longer toward the object overtly mentioned in the question, as might be expected based on a surface account of early language acquisition. This suggests that infants may have some understanding of these complex structures long before they are produced.

Ancillary