The acquisition of recursive modification in NPS

Ana T. Pérez-Leroux, Tyler Peterson, Anny Castilla-Earls, Susana Béjar, Diane Massam, Yves Roberge

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

14 Scopus citations


Despite sensitivity to the contextual demands of modification, children struggle with the production of complex NPs. What syntactic or semantic properties of NP embedding specifically introduce complexity? We compare production of definite descriptions with two modifiers that contrast in the attachment of the second modifier: sequential vs. recursive modification. Children (n = 71) produced overall fewer targets than adults (n = 13), but both groups found double nonre-cursive modification (e.g. the plate with oranges under the table) much easier than recursive modification (e.g. the bird on the alligator in the water). We conclude that each embedding step introduces complexity beyond the elements and operations employed in the semantic composition of the structure, or the cyclic syntax that generates it.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)332-359
Number of pages28
Issue number2
StatePublished - Jun 2018


  • Child language acquisition
  • Complex NPs
  • Embedding
  • Modification
  • PPs
  • Recursion
  • Syntax-semantics interface

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Language and Linguistics
  • Linguistics and Language


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