The purpose of this study is to provide an account of children's
acquisition of wh-questions in the variety of Malay spoken in Singapore.
The work examines how children acquire colloquial Malay, the language to
which they are exposed at home and in the speech community before they are
taught the standard, formal language in school. It is intended to be a
contribution to the study of how children acquire typologically distinct
language. In addition, it is a contribution to the examination of the
grammar of colloquial Malay, a topic which has not been given much
attention in studies of the Malay language. The following issues are
examined: children's knowledge of the different options for asking simple
questions (wh-in situ, questions employing wh-movement and focus
questions), their knowledge of these question types in long-distance
questions, and the role of island constraints in the syntax of these
question types in the Malay of young children. The study uses two
experimental methodologies; a comprehension task (the picture-story method)
and a production task (elicited imitation). It is also based on a
longitudinal spontaneous production study of two Malay-speaking children.
In addition to its descriptive value, the thesis is of theoretical
interest. According to the innateness hypothesis, children have a
biologically determined knowledge of Universal Grammar, and universals like
the island constraints on movement are respected
by all languages. Contrary to these expectations, the empirical evidence
discussed in this thesis shows that Malay-speaking children, ages 4;5-6;5,
appear not to respect island constraints on wh-movement. A careful
analysis of the results, however, shows that this seeming challenge to
Universal Grammar is more apparent than real, and that the island
violations are the result of a processing effect in which in situ
wh-questions, which are not subject to islands, prime the responses for the
fully moved questions.
ISBN 978 3 89586 380 6. LINCOM Studies in Language Acquisition 19. 350pp.
EUR 74.00. 12/2006.