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Linguistic Inquiry

Winter 2001, Vol. 32, No. 1, Pages 1-44
(doi: 10.1162/002438901554577)
© 2001 Massachusetts Institute of Technology
The Maturation of Grammatical Principles: Evidence from Russian Unaccusatives
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This article tests the hypothesis that young children have a maturational difficulty with A-chain formation that makes them unable to represent unaccusative verbs in an adultlike fashion. We report the results of a test of children's performance on the genitive-of-negation construction in Russian, which, for adults, is an “unaccusativity diagnostic,” since genitive case is allowed to appear on the underlying direct object argument of unaccusatives as well as on direct objects of standard transitive verbs within the scope of negation. We show that although, Russian children know the properties of the construction, they have notable difficulty using it with unaccusative verbs. Since the input evidence for genitive of negation with unaccusative verbs is quite robust, we interpret our results as support for the hypothesis.