LINGUIST List 14.1007

Fri Apr 4 2003

Diss: Lang Acquisition: Deen "The Acquisition..."

Editor for this issue: Anita Yahui Huang <>


  1. kamil, Lang Acquisition: Deen "The Acquisition of Nairobi Swahili..."

Message 1: Lang Acquisition: Deen "The Acquisition of Nairobi Swahili..."

Date: Wed, 02 Apr 2003 14:11:40 +0000
From: kamil <>
Subject: Lang Acquisition: Deen "The Acquisition of Nairobi Swahili..."

Institution: University of California, Los Angeles
Program: Department of TESL & Applied Linguistics
Dissertation Status: Completed
Degree Date: 2002

Author: Kamil Ud Deen 

Dissertation Title: 

The Acquisition of Nairobi Swahili: The Morphosyntax of Inflectional
Prefixes and Subjects

Dissertation URL:

Linguistic Field: Language Acquisition 

Subject Language: Swahili (code: SWA )

Dissertation Director 1: Nina Hyams

Dissertation Abstract: 

This study investigates the acquisition of inflectional prefixes in
Swahili, an eastern Bantu language. The order of morphemes in adult
Swahili is: Subject Agreement - Tense - (Object Agreement) - Verb Root
- (derivational suffixes) - Mood Vowel. I present data from an
original corpus of 4 Swahili-speaking children (ages 1;8-3;0) who were
recorded in Nairobi, Kenya. An analysis of the children's verbal
utterances reveals that four clause types occur in the speech of all
four children, with omissions diminishing with maturity:

a. Agr - T - Verb Stem 	Full Clause
b. 	� - T - Verb Stem	[-SA]Clause
c.	Agr - � - Verb Stem 	[-T] Clause 
d. 	� - � - Verb Stem	Bare Verb Stem

Of these four, only full clauses and [-SA] clauses are permitted by
adults in this non-standard dialect of Swahili (Deen,
2002). Furthermore, tense becomes obligatory earlier than subject
agreement, the omission of which persists until the latest data
points. The data support the Agr-Tense Omission Model (Sch�tze &
Wexler, 1996) in showing that agreement and tense may be optionally
and independently underspecified.

Interestingly, the omission of Agr and T has effects on the occurrence
of overt subjects, suggesting that the omission is not purely
phonological, but rather is of a syntactic nature. When full clauses
occur, children allow overt subjects at approximately adult rates
(Swahili being a null subject language, this rate is approximately
17%). In [-SA] clauses, overt subjects occur at significantly higher
rates in both child and adult Swahili (~40%). In [-T] clauses, overt
subjects are entirely unattested. This is expected if we assume that
in the absence of T, children allow PRO subjects, as in adult
infinitives. Surprisingly however, in bare stems (which are also
missing T), overt subjects occur at approximately 12%. I provide an
analysis that makes use of a null constant-anaphoric topic operator
construction (Rizzi, 1992; 1997). I show that in both adult and child
Swahili, this construction occurs in the absence of agreement. It is
this anaphoric topic operator (and not a true subject) that occurs in
both [-SA] clauses (adult and child) as well as child bare stems.
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