Early syntactic acquisition in German: Evidence for the modal hypothesis

David Ingram*, William Thompson

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

56 Scopus citations


Poeppel and Wexler (1993) present the Full Competence Hypothesis, which claims that German children very early (circa age 2) acquire finiteness, verb agreement, and verb movement. They also propose the Grammatical Infinitive Hypothesis, which states that children have the option of using either a finite or nonfinite form and randomly select verbs for one or the other. The data on which these claims are based consist of 282 sentences from a German child at 2;1. We present a more conservative alternative, the Lexical/Semantic Hypothesis, which proposes that early learning is more lexically oriented, and that early word combinations can be explained by more semantically oriented accounts. To replace the Grammatical Infinitive Hypothesis, we put forth the Modal Hypothesis, which states that the distinction between finite and nonfinite forms can be accounted for by the modality of the sentence. Nonfinite forms occur in modal contexts, and finite ones occur in nonmodal ones. Data to support this alternative are presented from the analysis of 1084 sentences from four German children, including the subject studied in Poeppel and Wexler.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)97-120
Number of pages24
Issue number1
StatePublished - Mar 1996

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Language and Linguistics
  • Linguistics and Language


Dive into the research topics of 'Early syntactic acquisition in German: Evidence for the modal hypothesis'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this