Questions

There are several different forms used to ask questions, including rising intonation on a declarative sentence; yes-no questions, which involve subject-auxiliary verb inversion; wh- questions, which involve wh-movement and inversion; and tags, which are appended to declaratives and may be marked lexically (e.g., ''we'll go shopping, okay?.") or syntactically (''we'll go shopping, won't we?''). Children begin at the one- or two-word stage by using rising intonation and one or two fixed wh- forms, such as ''what that?'' Gradually, over the next couple of years syntactic forms of questions develop with inversion rules acquired simultaneously for both yes-no and wh- questions. Some data suggest that for wh- questions, inversion rules are learned sequentially for individual wh- words, such as "what" "where" and ''who" ''why" and may be closely linked in time to the appearance of those words used as wh- complements. Thus, syntactic rules for question formation may be wh- word specific in early child language.

Several studies of English and other languages have investigated the order in which children acquire various wh- questions and the findings have been consistent. Children generally begin asking and understanding ''what" and ''where" questions, followed by ''who" then ''how" and finally ''when" and ''why" questions. One explanation for this developmental sequence is that it reflects semantic and cognitive complexity of the concepts encoded in these different types of questions. Thus, questions about objects, locations, and people (i.e., what, where, and who) involve less abstract concepts than those of manner, time, and causality (i.e., how, when, and why). The early emerging wh- questions are also syntactically less complex in that they involve simple noun phrase replacement, whereas the later developing questions involve prepositional phrases or full sentence complements.

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