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LINGUIST List 23.2930

Wed Jul 04 2012

Diss: Language Acquisition/Spanish: Blume: 'Discourse-Morphosyntax Interface in Spanish non-finite Verbs...'

Editor for this issue: Lili Xia <lxialinguistlist.org>

Date: 03-Jul-2012
From: María Blume <mblumeutep.edu>
Subject: Discourse-Morphosyntax Interface in Spanish non-finite Verbs: A comparison between adult and child grammars
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Institution: Cornell University
Program: Department of Linguistics
Dissertation Status: Completed
Degree Date: 2002

Author: María Blume

Dissertation Title: Discourse-Morphosyntax Interface in Spanish non-finite Verbs: A comparison between adult and child grammars

Linguistic Field(s): Language Acquisition

Subject Language(s): Spanish (spa)

Dissertation Director:
Barbara C. Lust
Joan Sereno
Margarita Suñer

Dissertation Abstract:

This thesis combines an investigation of non-finite verbs in adult
Spanish —Infinitives and Present Participles as answers to questions
with hacer 'to do'— with a comparative study of their use and
development in child Spanish. The existence of these non-finite forms
in non-embedded declarative structures contradicts the widely-held
assumption that non-finite forms should not exist in these contexts.

These forms were studied experimentally in two pragmatic contexts: in
one set of experiments a discourse context involving questions was
provided. In the other set the same discourse context was used along
with a referential context (a storybook).

Spanish-speaking monolingual children in four age groups from 2 years
1 month to 3 years 11 months were studied through two experiments
which measured production (one spontaneous, one elicited). Results
were compared to two experiments with adult subjects which tested
acceptability and spontaneous production. Results are argued to
provide evidence that:

i. non-finite main verbs in non-embedded declarative clauses are
acceptable in both adult and child Spanish.
ii. the acceptability of these forms requires an interaction between
morphosyntax and discourse, which allows the recoverability of the
missing inflectional and agreement features of the answer's verb.
iii. the relevant discourse factors for the acceptability of non-finite
forms in adult Spanish are the ambiguity of the verb of the preceding
question and the availability of an overt auxiliary in the discourse
context that can act as an antecedent for a null auxiliary in the answer.
iv. the referential context favored an ongoing activity interpretation
which helped to resolve the ambiguity in the interpretation of Imperfect
verb questions, allowing the use of null auxiliary forms in both adult and
child grammars.

It is argued that child and adult grammars are essentially identical and
that children know the effects of the referential context from the
youngest age studied. Children develop in their knowledge of the
principles of the morphosyntax-discourse interface and of language-
specific Spanish morphology, especially with respect to the estar
auxiliary used in Progressive forms.

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