Emergence of Syntax
Introduction
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One of the most important concerns
of theoretical linguistics today
represents the study of the
acquisition of language.
By studying language acquisition,
we can learn more about the innate
structures, Universal Grammar,
which drive the process of
acquisition.
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Research shows:
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children and adults do not differ with
respect to devices for acquiring
language structure (the Continuity
Approaches) or
Children differ in their grammar in
comparison to adults, by building
language structure (The Structure
Building Model).
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Even though children talk
differently than adults, underlying
knowledge of the language
structure is the same.
Emergence of Functional Categories
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Continuity Hypothesis (Hyams 1992)
Lexical elements need to be acquired
Grammatical principles and the Functional
Categories are antecedently available to
the child, containing null elements.
Children have full grammatical
competence and the differences between
child speech and adult speech should be
attributed to external factors (i.e.
developmental).
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The Strong Continuity Approach functional categories are available from
the beginning and they are operative
when the child starts to produce
sentences, children are filling in the preexistent categories as they mature.
Differences between adult speech and
child speech are maturational.
This approach is also called the
Maturational Approach (based on lexical
learning as the child fills in the preexisting
categories).
“No Functional Categories”
“No Functional Categories” = The Structure
Building Model (Radford 1990)
 no Functional Categories available at the
beginning
 grammar is characterized by the absence
of the functional categories and the child
builds the functional categories as they
acquire language.
Finite Vs. Non-finite
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Parameters are set correctly very early
(Wexler: 1998)
Children, at a very early stage, “know”
the contrast between finite and non-finite
verbs
Both finite and non-finite verbs are used,
but finite verbs only occur in finite
contexts. In some languages (e.g.
English, Dutch, German), children go
through an Optional Infinitive (Root
Infinitive) stage.
Optional Infinitive Stage
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Wexler (1998) - the Optional Infinitive Stage is
caused by the so called Unique Checking
Constraint which prevents a D-feature on DP from
checking more than one D-feature on functional
categories (Tense and Agreement), therefore
forcing either TNS or AGR to be omitted.
The Truncation Theory (Rizzi) claims that in this
stage, children do not recognize a
Complementizer position in Root clauses
(infinitive clauses).
Hoekstra and Hyams (1993) - The Optional
Infinitive Stage results from the lack of the
number agreement.
What are Root Infinitives?
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Children produce main clauses
containing an infinitive verb, rather
than a finite verb
Phenomenon observed in: English,
Danish, Dutch, French, German,
Russian
Examples:
a. Dormir petit bébé
sleep-Inf little baby
‘Little baby sleep’
b. Mary go.
c. Papa have it.
d. Dolly like ice-cream.
Root Infinitives
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The Optional-Infinitive stage stage in grammatical development
when children use root infinitives
and tensed verbs as grammatical, in
alternation.
The Optional Infinitive Stage
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The Optional Infinitive stage
appears not only in English, but also
in all Germanic languages, as well
as French and other languages.
Children acquiring German use
finite verbs in second position and
non-finite verbs in final positions.
This is given by the V2 process (V
to C movement).
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Wexler (1992) - null subjects are the
effect of the Optional Infinitive stage, and
there is evidence that children use null
subjects mainly with non-finite verbs.
In the Optional Infinitive stage, Agr
and/or Tense may be omitted. If
Agreement is omitted, then there is no
NOM case assigned, the subject gets the
default case, which is ACC in English.
The lack of Tense licenses PRO, the use of
the null subjects.
Pattern (Wexler)
a). he likes ice-cream
[+AGR, +TNS]
b). he like ice-cream
[+AGR, -TNS]
c). him like ice-cream
[-AGR, +TNS]
d). *him likes ice-cream
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Wexler (1998) proposes that the OI
stage is caused by the so-called
Unique Checking Constraint.
While raising, the subject can only
check one D-feature from the Tense
or Agreement (assuming that these
functional projections have a Dfeature associated with them).
The Truncation Theory - Rizzi
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A child can choose to project all the way up to CP,
or he can project just part of the way up.
But he can’t leave anything out from the middle
of the tree.
The difference between the child:
the adult takes CP as the root node of any
sentence, whereas the child can choose anything
as the root node.
The extra constraint requiring CP to be the root is
something that emerges maturationally some
time before the child’s third birthday.
Null Subject Languages
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Children acquiring a null-subject language
(Italian, Spanish, Catalan or Romanian) –
no Optional Infinitive stage, because
they make the distinction between finite
and non-finite verbs and use correct
verbal forms (finite/non-finite) in proper
environments.
Torrens (Spanish and Catalan) concludes
that children do not undergo an Optional
Infinitive stage, they distinguish between
finite and non-finite verbs and they
produce verbs in correct contexts.
Null Subject Languages
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Italian children (Guasti 1993) distinguish between finite and nonfinite verbs and the Optional
Infinitive stage is not a
characteristic of the Italian child
language.
Romanian children correctly place
the verb forms in the correct
distributions.
Null Subject Languages
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Grinstead (2000) - Spanish and Catalan
children - claims that children at a very
early stage “lack contrastive use of tense
and number morphology”. But this stage
ends at around 1;10 and that is when the
recordings for the present research
studies just started.
Phillips (1995) – if speakers of nullsubject languages have Root Infinitives
this is happening before the earliest
possible recording.
Properties of Root Infinitives
a.
b.
c.
Do not occur in pro-drop
Languages
Occur in declarative Sentences,
but not in wh-questions
Root infinitives are incompatible
with auxiliaries
Phillips (1995)
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Root infinitive clauses are not due
to a deficit in syntactic or
morphological knowledge.
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Root infinitive clauses are fully
represented finite clauses in which
merger of the verb with inflection
has been delayed
IP
Subj.
I'
VP
Infl.
V
Syntax:
Spell-Out:
the cat 3-s ing-pres like
le chat
ø
aimer(infin.)
Obj.
the fish
le poiss on
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Phillips (1995) root infinitives depend on
the interaction of the detailed knowledge
children have of their target language at a
very early age with one specific
performance factor: the task of accessing
morphological knowledge.
The morphological simplifications – not a
reflection of the child’s knowledge of
syntax
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The ‘root infinitive stage’ lasts for
different lengths of time in different
children, and individual children use
root infinitives with widely differing
frequencies
Frequency of root infinitive use
drops off gradually over time.
Proportion of Root Infinitives
Root Infinitives in German and Dutch
1
0.9
0.8
0.7
0.6
0.5
0.4
0.3
0.2
0.1
0
1.5
2
2.5
3
3.5
Age
Simone
Hein
4
English
1
Proportion of Root Infinitives
0 .9
0 .8
0 .7
0 .6
0 .5
0 .4
0 .3
0 .2
0 .1
0
1 .5
2
2 .5
3
Ag e
Ad am
Ev e
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Emergence of Syntax - University of Ottawa