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LINGUIST List 16.3237

Wed Nov 09 2005

Diss: Language Acquisition/Syntax: Dye: 'Identifying...'

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        1.    Cristina Dye, Identifying Auxiliaries in First Language Acquisition Evidence From A New Child French Corpus

Message 1: Identifying Auxiliaries in First Language Acquisition Evidence From A New Child French Corpus
Date: 09-Nov-2005
From: Cristina Dye <cdd6cornell.edu>
Subject: Identifying Auxiliaries in First Language Acquisition Evidence From A New Child French Corpus

Institution: Cornell University
Program: Department of Romance Studies, Program in Romance Linguistics
Dissertation Status: Completed
Degree Date: 2005

Author: Cristina Domnita Dye

Dissertation Title: Identifying Auxiliaries in First Language Acquisition Evidence From A New Child French Corpus

Linguistic Field(s): Language Acquisition

Subject Language(s): French (fra)

Dissertation Director:
Barbara C. Lust
Carol G. Rosen
Yasuhiro Shirai
John B. Whitman

Dissertation Abstract:

Since the early studies in first language acquisition, scholars have
noticed that certain types of grammatical categories, among which
auxiliaries and verb inflections, seem to be missing in children, with the
result that early utterances involve ostensibly nonfinite matrix verbs.
This has led to the idea that (some part of) grammar is missing. Previous
approaches range from pivot grammars where children are proposed to have
representations radically different from those of adults, to maturational
accounts where children are said to be deficient in some or all adult
functional categories, to null-aux accounts where child grammar is said to
differ from adult grammar with regard to the type of auxiliaries allowed.

In contrast with earlier studies, the present research, consisting of three
studies, shows that child grammar is closer to adult grammar than
previously thought. The first study is based on a new corpus of child
French spontaneous speech containing cross-sectional samples from 18
monolingual children aged 1;11-2;11. Phonetic analyses indicate that
ostensibly nonfinite matrix verbs are best interpreted as cases of extreme
auxiliary reduction, i.e. auxiliary deletion, while semantic analyses show
that ostensible matrix infinitives usually have the semantics of
periphrastics with infinitives. Two shorter studies complement the first.
One consists of an elicited imitation experiment involving 16 monolingual
French-speaking children ages 2;1 - 3;1, which shows that ostensibly
nonfinite matrix verbs are produced when the child's intended utterance
involves a periphrastic, i.e., in contexts where the target language has
periphrastics. The last study is a cross-linguistic comparison of French,
English, Italian, and Spanish, based on naturalistic samples from 9
monolingual children from the CHILDES database; this study shows that
across child languages, the types of nonfinite forms occurring as
ostensible matrix verbs are precisely the ones that in the corresponding
adult language occur in periphrastic constructions.

On the basis of the present results, I advance the Incompletely Pronounced
Periphrastics Hypothesis, which proposes that children's ostensibly
nonfinite matrix verbs are part of periphrastics (aux + nonfinite verb
combinations) in which the auxiliary/modal has undergone extreme
phonological reduction, i.e. deletion. Corroboration comes not only from
the distributional facts but also from several types of phonological evidence.

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