Head and Coordination



09/2021 – 09/2025

Project Vari

How monolingual preschool children deal with linguistic variation

The project investigates how preschool children deal with linguistic variation. The focus is on the acquisition of adjectives such as big, clean, or yellow. The project contributes to the question how children acquire the grammatical rules and the meaning of utterances in their first language when the input is inconsistent.

The project Vari investigates preschool children’s first language acquisition. We aim at a better understanding of how children deal with variation in the language input, by looking at the acquisition of linguistic phenomena that show variation regarding the word order in sentences and regarding the meaning of words and sentences.

The main focus of the project are adjectives such as big, clean, and yellow. Adjectives are among the first words produced by children. However, compared to nouns and verbs they are underrepresented in children’s vocabulary, and the acquisition of central aspects of their meaning and uses may not be mastered by the time children enter elementary school. Therefore, the project investigates 3- to 5-year-olds’ production and comprehension of adjectives. In the production study, we examine variation regarding the use of multiple adjectives (e.g., the big yellow ball or the yellow big ball). As for comprehension, one study investigates the interpretation of adjectives whose meaning vary more or less depending on the context (e.g., big mouse vs. big elephant; yellow plate vs. yellow shirt). The second comprehension study explores how the presence of adjectives such as clean modulates the interpretation of sentences (e.g., The man wipes the table clean vs. The man wipes the table).

Selected publications

Li, D., Grohe, L., Schulz, P. & Yang, C. (2021). The distributional learning of recursive structures. In D. Dionne & L.-A. Vidal Covas (Eds.), Proceedings of the 45th annual Boston University Conference on Language Development (pp. 471-485). Somerville, MA: Cascadilla Press.

Weicker, M. & Schulz, P. (2020). Not everything needs to be big or small: Evidence from children’s interpretation of vague adjectives. In M. M. Brown & A. Kohut (Eds.), Proceedings of the 44th annual Boston University Conference on Language Development (pp. 724-737). Somerville, MA: Cascadilla Press.

Weicker, M. & Schulz, P. (2019). Red train, big train, broken train – semantic and syntactic aspects of adjectives in child language. In M. Rispoli & T. Ionin (Eds.), Three streams of generative language acquisition research (pp. 203-221). Language Acquisition and Linguistic Disorders Series. Amsterdam: John Benjamins Publishing.