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Revitalizing Endangered Languages

Edited by Justyna Olko & Julia Sallabank

Revitalizing Endangered Languages "This guidebook provides ideas and strategies, as well as some background, to help with the effective revitalization of endangered languages. It covers a broad scope of themes including effective planning, benefits, wellbeing, economic aspects, attitudes and ideologies."

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Dissertation Information

Title: The Acquisition of Nairobi Swahili: The morphosyntax of inflectional prefixes and subjects Add Dissertation
Author: Kamil Deen Update Dissertation
Email: click here to access email
Institution: University of California, Los Angeles, Department of TESL & Applied Linguistics
Completed in: 2002
Linguistic Subfield(s): Morphology; Language Acquisition;
Subject Language(s): Swahili
Director(s): Nina Hyams

Abstract: This study investigates the acquisition of inflectional prefixes in Swahili, an eastern Bantu language. The order of morphemes in adult Swahili is: Subject Agreement - Tense - (Object Agreement) - Verb Root - (derivational suffixes) - Mood Vowel. I present data from an original corpus of 4 Swahili-speaking children (ages 1;8-3;0) who were recorded in Nairobi, Kenya. An analysis of the children's verbal utterances reveals that four clause types occur in the speech of all four children, with omissions diminishing with maturity:

a. Agr - T - Verb Stem Full Clause
b. ø - T - Verb Stem [-SA]Clause
c. Agr - ø - Verb Stem [-T] Clause
d. ø - ø - Verb Stem Bare Verb Stem

Of these four, only full clauses and [-SA] clauses are permitted by adults in this non-standard dialect of Swahili (Deen, 2002). Furthermore, tense becomes obligatory earlier than subject agreement, the omission of which persists until the latest data points. The data support the Agr-Tense Omission Model (Schütze & Wexler, 1996) in showing that agreement and tense may be optionally
and independently underspecified.

Interestingly, the omission of Agr and T has effects on the occurrence of overt subjects, suggesting that the omission is not purely phonological, but rather is of a syntactic nature. When full clauses occur, children allow overt subjects at approximately adult rates (Swahili being a null subject language, this rate is approximately 17%). In [-SA] clauses, overt subjects occur at significantly higher rates in both child and adult Swahili (~40%). In [-T] clauses, overt subjects are entirely unattested. This is expected if we assume that in the absence of T, children allow PRO subjects, as in adult
infinitives. Surprisingly however, in bare stems (which are also missing T), overt subjects occur at approximately 12%. I provide an analysis that makes use of a null constant-anaphoric topic operator construction (Rizzi, 1992; 1997). I show that in both adult and child Swahili, this construction occurs in the absence of agreement. It is this anaphoric topic operator (and not a true subject) that occurs in both [-SA] clauses (adult and child) as well as child bare stems.