This thesis investigates the omission of functional elements in children’s
early production. More specifically, it provides an extensive study of
object clitic omission in early Italian. This phenomenon raises a number of
questions concerning the nature of null objects in early grammars, the
relation between argument structure and referentiality, the acquisition of
syntactic and pragmatic aspects of referentiality, and the mapping between
syntactic and prosodic structures.
Three experiments aim at shedding light on the following issues: Are
referential null objects a productive option in Early Italian? Does the
phonological context in which a clitic occurs affect omission? Are clitics
omitted because they refer to information that is easily retrievable from
the preceding discourse? In this thesis it is argued that clitic omission
can be partially explained by children’s tendency to omit unstressed
syllables (such as clitics) that do not belong to a trochaic foot.
Moreover, it is shown that clitic omission can be accounted for as the
result of a non-adult like integration of syntactic and discourse-pragmatic
This study contributes to a better understanding of children’s ability to
coordinate different aspects of linguistic knowledge in the early stages of
language acquisition. It is relevant for scholars in the field of first
language acquisition,as well as for theoretical linguists working on the
syntax-discourse interface and on the syntax-phonology interface.