, Volume 29, Issue 3, pp 409–429 | Cite as

First-language acquisition of synthetic compounds in Estonian, Finnish, German, Greek, Lithuanian, Russian and Saami

  • Wolfgang U. Dressler
  • Sabine Sommer-LoleiEmail author
  • Katharina Korecky-Kröll
  • Reili Argus
  • Ineta Dabašinskienė
  • Laura Kamandulytė-Merfeldienė
  • Johanna Johansen Ijäs
  • Victoria V. Kazakovskaya
  • Klaus Laalo
  • Evangelia Thomadaki


In this first cross-linguistic study of the emergence and early development of synthetic compounds we present the strictly parallel analysis of systematically collected longitudinal data from seven languages: the Finno-Ugric languages Finnish, Saami, Estonian and the Indo-European languages Lithuanian, Russian, Greek and German. The data of spontaneous interactions between children and parents allow insights usually not obtainable via transversal formal tests. For example, the target of acquisition is the specific parental child-directed speech and not the target languages as represented in grammars, dictionaries and adult electronic corpora.

The distribution, dates and orders of emergence of various formal and semantic subtypes of synthetic compounds, i.e. instrument, agent, result, action, local deverbal synthetic compounds, differs among the languages studied. These differences are better explained by the relative richness of patterns of synthetic compounds than by other typological criteria such as belonging to, or approaching, the agglutinating vs. the inflecting-fusional language type.

The analyses offer support for a building-block model of the rise of morphological complexity, for synthetic compounds being taken up by children as compounds and not as derivations, but being more complex than other types of compounds. Thus, synthetic compounds become productive later than nominal compounds in general.


Acquisition Building-block model Complexity Language typology Morphological richness Synthetic compounds 


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Copyright information

© Springer Nature B.V. 2019

Authors and Affiliations

  • Wolfgang U. Dressler
    • 1
  • Sabine Sommer-Lolei
    • 2
    Email author
  • Katharina Korecky-Kröll
    • 3
  • Reili Argus
    • 4
  • Ineta Dabašinskienė
    • 5
  • Laura Kamandulytė-Merfeldienė
    • 5
  • Johanna Johansen Ijäs
    • 6
  • Victoria V. Kazakovskaya
    • 7
  • Klaus Laalo
    • 8
  • Evangelia Thomadaki
    • 9
  1. 1.University of Vienna, Austrian Centre for Digital Humanities of the Austrian Academy of SciencesWienAustria
  2. 2.Austrian Centre for Digital Humanities of the Austrian Academy of SciencesWienAustria
  3. 3.University of ViennaWienAustria
  4. 4.Tallinn UniversityTallinnEstonia
  5. 5.Vytautas Magnus UniversityKaunasLithuania
  6. 6.Sámi University of Applied SciencesGuovdageaidnu/KautokeinoNorway
  7. 7.Institute for Linguistic Studies of the Russian Academy of SciencesSt. PetersburgRussia
  8. 8.University of TampereTampereen yliopistoFinland
  9. 9.Democritus University of ThraceKomotiniGreece

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