Acquisition of German: diagnostic criteria

We remarked previously that the main developmental milestones in the acquisition of German are well-documented for a variety of acquisition situations. Furthermore, while much of the research has been dedicated to the analysis of developmental paths for the respective acquisition situations, over the last years there is a progressive convergence of the different lines of research. In earlier work (Plaza-Pust 2000, 2008a), based on the theoretical framework also presented here in section 2.2, we argued that the available data allow for the conclusion that there is a common developmental sequence that accounts for structure-building in the acquisition of German in diverse situations. Where German is acquired simultaneously with another language as of birth (bilingual first language acquisition) or as a second language at a later point (child or adult second language acquisition) the acquisition of the language must also be understood in relation to the organisation of multilingual knowledge. This might be manifested also in the form of language contact phenomena.

Against this backdrop, we will discuss next the main developmental milestones and the scope of individual variation in the acquisition of German. We will mainly focus on two areas of language knowledge, namely, syntax and morpho- syntax. Based on the descriptive framework of German grammar elaborated in

section 4.1, the acquisition task involves the mastery of the properties and processes associated with these areas (see Table 4.6 for a summary).

Table 4.6: Acquisition of German: linguistic areas and related structures, processes, and properties (dotted lines indicate areas at the focus of the analysis).


Processes / properties



  • - point-of-view(complex clauses, direct / indirect quotation)
  • - XP or subject-drop in sentence-initial position
  • - co-reference

i Syntax

  • - interrogation, subordination
  • - XP topicalisation (V2), finiteness distinction
  • - (verb raising), feature checking projection of categorial-thematic structure
  • (CP-level) i (IP-level) 1
  • (VP-level)

l Morphology

- inflection morphology (person, number, tense, mood)

1 Lexicon


- distinction of thematic (main) / non-thematic (copula, modal) verbs

auxiliary, l

______ J

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