Masters Thesis

The tolerance principle: a closer look at the dative shift

Some dative verbs appear in both the double object construction (Give me the toy) and the prepositional construction (Give the toy to me), while others can only be used in one construction (Say something to me // *Say me something). Children cannot expect to hear every grammatical possibility, nor can they assume that dative verbs they have not previously heard in a construction can never be used in that construction. This results in a paradox: How do children learn what constructions are ungrammatical in the absence of negative evidence? Yang (2016) proposed a possible explanation to this paradox using the Tolerance Principle, a model that predicts linguistic productivity. In this thesis, we replicate Yang’s analysis of how children learn the dative shift using positive evidence alone. We then conduct a modified analysis to address some of the potential limitations in Yang’s study.