Relative gradable adjective recursion such as small small big mushrooms is more challenging for children than possessive recursion such as the deer’s friend’s sister’s mushrooms


  • Deborah Foucault University of Massachusetts Amherst
  • Adina Camelia Bleotu University of Bucharest
  • Usha Lakshmanan Southern Illinois University Carbondale
  • Emma Merritt University of Frankfurt
  • Roehl Sybing Doshisha University
  • Tom Roeper University of Massachusetts Amherst



language acquisition, English L1, adjectives, possessives, recursion, gradability, set, subset, syntax-semantics interface


Our experiment investigates whether children handle recursive possessives (R-Poss) in a more adult-like manner than recursive relative gradable adjectives (R-RGA). While the abstract notion of indirect recursion underlies both categories, we ask whether individual syntactic-semantic properties determine different acquisition paths in English for R-Poss and R-RGA at the 2-Level (the deer’s friend’s mushrooms, small big mushrooms) and at the 3-Level (the deer’s friend’s sister’s mushrooms, small small big mushrooms). The results indicate that older children perform better than younger children on 2- and 3-Level R-Poss. However, this trend is not observed for R-RGA where both age groups perform similarly, successfully handling 2- but not 3-Level R-RGA. Analysis of individual results reveal that children who are successful with comprehension and production at 3-Level R-RGA are also successful with 3-Level R-Poss, but not the other way around. We conclude that 3-Level R-RGA is more challenging than 3-Level R-Poss, arguing that this difficulty arises from R-RGA syntax-semantics which involves a set-subset relation and gradability relative to comparative scales.




How to Cite

Foucault, Deborah, Adina Camelia Bleotu, Usha Lakshmanan, Emma Merritt, Roehl Sybing, and Tom Roeper. 2022. “Relative Gradable Adjective Recursion Such As Small Small Big Mushrooms Is More Challenging for Children Than Possessive Recursion Such As the deer’s friend’s sister’s Mushrooms”. Proceedings of the Linguistic Society of America 7 (1): 5294.