A large-scale cross-linguistic investigation of the acquisition of passive

Sharon Armon Lotem, Ewa Haman, Kristine M. Jensen de López, Magdalena Smoczynska, Kazuko Yatsushiro, Marcin Szczerbinski, Angeliek van Hout, Ineta Dabasinskiene, Anna Gavarro, Erin Hobbs, Laura Kamandulyte, Napoleon Katsos, Sari Kunnari, Chrisa Michaelidou, Lone Sundahl Olsen, Xavier Parramon, Uli Sauerland, Reeli Torn-Leesik, Heather van der Lely

Research output: Contribution to journalJournal articleResearchpeer-review

21 Citations (Scopus)


This cross-linguistic study evaluates children’s understanding of passives in eleven typologically different languages: Catalan, Cypriot Greek, Danish, Dutch, English, Estonian, Finnish, German, Hebrew, Lithuanian, and Polish. The study intends to determine whether the reported gaps between the comprehension of active and passive and between short and full passive hold crosslinguistically. The present study offers two major findings. The first is the relative ease in which five year-old children across 11 different languages are able to comprehend short passive constructions (compared to the full passive). The second and perhaps the more intriguing finding is the variation seen across the different languages in children’s comprehension of full passive constructions. We argued, based on the present findings, that given the relevant linguistic input (e.g., flexibility in word order and experience with argument reduction), children at the age of five are capable of acquiring both the short passive and the full passive. Variation, however, stems from the specific characteristics of each language, and good mastery of passives by the age of five is not a universal, cross-linguistically valid milestone in typical language acquisition. Therefore, difficulties with passives (short or full) can be used for identifying SLI at the age of five only in those languages in which it has already been mastered by typically developing children.
Original languageEnglish
JournalLanguage Acquisition
Issue number1
Pages (from-to)27-56
Number of pages30
Publication statusPublished - 2016


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