The passive construction is acquired relatively late by children learning to speak many languages, with verbal passives not fully acquired till age 6 in English. In other languages it appears earlier, around age 3 or before. Use of passive construction in young children was examined in two Eastern Bantu languages spoken in Kenya (Kiswahili and Kigiriama), both with frequent use of passive. The passive was used productively very early (2;1) in these languages, regardless of the method used to measure productivity. In addition non-actional passives, particularly rare in English and some other European languages, were seen at these early ages. The proportion of verbs that were passive varied between individuals, both in children's speech and in the input to children. Pragmatic and grammatical features of the passive in some languages have previously been suggested to drive early passive acquisition, but these features are not found consistently in the two languages studied here. Findings suggest that the relatively high frequency of input found in these languages is the most plausible reason for early productive use of the passive.
“The final, definitive version of this article has been published in the Journal, First Language, 32 (4), 2012, © SAGE Publications Ltd, 2012 by SAGE Publications Ltd at the First Language page: http://fla.sagepub.com/ on SAGE Journals Online: http://online.sagepub.com/