Abstract: English comparatives and superlatives are typically formed by adding –er and –est to adjectives, respectively (e.g., tall-taller-tallest). Yet there are exceptions involving suppletion (good-better-best). Surveying more than 300 languages, Bobaljik (2012) observes the ‘Comparative-Superlative Generalization’ (CSG): if the comparative degree is suppletive (good-better), the superlative is also suppletive (best), and if the superlative degree is suppletive, then so is the comparative; thus AAA and ABB are possible patterns, but *ABA and *AAB are not. According to Bobaljik, certain types of meaning, including the superlative, cannot be expressed monomorphemically. Structurally, the superlative always contains the comparative: [[[Adj]Comp]Sup]. Building on a poverty of the stimulus argument, Bobaljik proposes that the CSG is a linguistic universal. This leads us to predict that people may adhere to the CSG even for forms that they have not encountered before. Indeed, adults have been shown to follow the CSG when producing novel forms (Donegani 2016); but adults have learned suppletive patterns like good-better-best. We turn to children, who have considerably less experience with suppletion. The results of three experiments reveal that 4-year-olds, despite having less experience with suppletive forms than adults, are similarly sensitive to the CSG in their production and comprehension of novel comparatives and superlatives – providing additional support for Bobaljik's universal morphological constraints.
Speaker bio: Dr. Lyn Tieu completed her PhD in Linguistics at the University of Connecticut in 2013. She then completed a postdoctoral fellowship in the Laboratoire de Sciences Cognitives et Psycholinguistique at the Ecole Normale Supérieure in Paris, France, followed by a postdoctoral fellowship in the Centre for Excellence in Cognition and its Disorders (CCD) at Macquarie University. Lyn’s research focuses primarily on children’s acquisition of syntax, semantics, and pragmatics. Many of her projects have investigated children’s production and comprehension of different kinds of sentence structures, their understanding of logical expressions, and their ability to make inferences that go beyond the literal meanings of the sentences that they hear.