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UBC Theses and Dissertations

The use of modal auxiliaries in the language of three-year-old children Godinho, Marie-Lisette


The current research on the acquisition and development of the modal auxiliary system by young children is limited to the appearance and use of early forms and the use of forms in imitation tasks by older children. The age at which a great expansion of the auxiliary verb system occurs (3;0+) has not been investigated well with respect to the modal system, an important aspect of the verb phrase. This study is an investigation of the distribution of modal forms and functions in the spontaneous speech of children aged 3;4 to 3;11. Standardized tests were administered to six children to determine their general level of linguistic development. The cross-sectional sample was found to be relatively homogeneous. Each child's spontaneous speech was recorded for one hour during a free-play session in the laboratory. The spontaneous language samples were examined for occurrence and use of auxiliary verbs. A more detailed analysis of modal auxiliaries and other relevant forms was undertaken. The results are compatible with the hypotheses proposed regarding the development of the auxiliary verb system. A wide distribution of forms and functions are in use by age 3;4-3;11 and occur in a range of syntactic environments. Although these children use forms to code a variety of meanings, they have not mastered the full range of functions carried by modal auxiliaries. The use of modals with 3rd person subjects and to refer to events displaced from immediate action are indicative of the more advanced development of modal auxiliaries in the language of these three-year-old children. Further research is suggested to fully explain the process of acquisition of this complex system.

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