Harmony in a non-harmonic language: word order learning in French children


Recent studies using artificial language learning have argued that the cross-linguistic frequency of harmonic word order patterns–in which heads are ordered consistently before or after dependents across syntactic categories–reflects a cognitive bias (Culbertson, Smolensky, & Legendre, 2012; Culbertson & Newport, 2015a). These studies suggest that English speak- ing adults and children favor harmonic orders of nouns and different nominal modifiers (adjectives, numerals). However, because they target English learners, whose native language is harmonic in the nominal domain (Num-Adj-N), this preference may be based on transfer rather than a universal bias for harmony. We present new evidence from French-speaking children, whose native language is non-harmonic in this do- main (Num-N-Adj). Our results reveal clear effects of native language transfer, but also evidence that a harmonic pattern is favored even in this population of learners.

Back to Table of Contents