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 <>

Date: 03-Jul-2012
From: María Blume <>
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 adultSpanish —Infinitives and Present Participles as answers to questionswith hacer 'to do'— with a comparative study of their use anddevelopment in child Spanish. The existence of these non-finite formsin non-embedded declarative structures contradicts the widely-heldassumption that non-finite forms should not exist in these contexts.

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

Spanish-speaking monolingual children in four age groups from 2 years1 month to 3 years 11 months were studied through two experimentswhich measured production (one spontaneous, one elicited). Resultswere compared to two experiments with adult subjects which testedacceptability and spontaneous production. Results are argued toprovide evidence that:

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

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

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