Student research: Acquisition of Hebrew degree modifiers

Bruria Miron, an MA student in the Linguistics in Clinical Research program, is interested in Children’s acquisition of adjectives and degree modifiers. In a seminar study, she tried to identify a critical age for the acquisition of Quantity degree modifiers among native Hebrew speaking children. In Hebrew, the quantity words kcat ('little'/'few') and harbe ('much'/'many') can be combined with a word like yoter ('more') in two ways, where the choice of which word is interpreted as a degree modifier depends on the choice of word order. For example, consider the context shown in the picture, in which Dubi has 6 markers and Snoopy has 4 markers. In this context, the following two sentences are not equivalent:

  1. le-dubi yeš kcat yoter me-ašer le-snupi. (literally: 'Dubi has little more than Snoopy' - True)
  2. le-dubi yeš yoter kcat me-ašer le-snupi. (literally: 'Dubi has more little than Snoopy' - False, because 'more little' means 'less')

Bruria found that by age 6-7, 80% of children have acquired the correct syntactic use of degree modifier kcat, whereas at the age 5-6 most of the children have not acquired it yet. 80% of them still understood kcat yoter (which is 'more') as yoter kcat (which is 'less'). This effect was highly significant. Under the supervision of Dr. Galit Weidman Sassoon and Prof. Sharon Armon Lotem, Bruria is now working on expanding her study of Degree Modifiers and looking to identify the acquisition age and process among bi-lingual English-Hebrew children.