Might and might not: Children's conceptual development and the acquisition of modal verbs

Brian Leahy, Eimantas Zalnieriunas


When a child acquires her first modal verbs, is she learning how to map words in the language she is learning onto innate concepts of possibility, necessity, and impossibility? Or does she also have to construct modal concepts? If the concepts are constructed, does learning to talk about possibilities play a role in the construction process? Exploring this hypothesis space requires testing children's acquisition of modal vocabulary alongside nonverbal tests of their modal concepts. Here we report a study with 103 children from 4;0 through 7;11 and 24 adults. We argue that the data fit best with the hypothesis that acquisition of modal language and development of modal concepts proceed hand-in-hand. However, more research is needed, especially with 3-year-olds.

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DOI: https://doi.org/10.3765/salt.v31i0.5082

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