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Review of  Pre- and Protomorphology:Early Phases of Morphological Development in Nouns and Verbs

Reviewer: Alexandra Galani
Book Title: Pre- and Protomorphology:Early Phases of Morphological Development in Nouns and Verbs
Book Author: Wolfgang U. Dressler Maria D. Voeikova
Publisher: Lincom GmbH
Linguistic Field(s): Morphology
Issue Number: 17.360

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Date: 30 Jan 2006 08:04:38 +0000
From: Alexandra Galani
Subject: Pre- and Promorphology: Early Phases of Morphological
Development in Nouns and Verbs

EDITORS: Voeikova, Maria D.; Dressler, Wolfgang U.
TITLE: Pre- and Protomorphology
SUBTITLE: Early Phases of Morphological Development in Nouns and
SERIES: LINCOM Studies in Theoretical Linguistics
YEAR: 2002

Alexandra Galani, University of York


The volume is a collection of twelve papers on the acquisition of
nominal and verbal morphology (inflectional and derivational) from a
language-specific as well as cross-linguistic point of view. The first two
chapters report on the acquisition of number and case from a cross-
linguistic perspective, whereas the remaining ten discuss patterns in
French, Austrian German, Yucatec Maya, Finnish, Russian, Italian,
Spanish and Croatian, respectively. The papers present some the
results of the ''Crosslinguistic Project on Pre- and Protomorphology in
Language Acquisition'' (Dressler, Austrian Academy of Sciences).

Introduction (pp. 3-5)
Voeikova and Dressler give a short but nonetheless clear enough
summary of the contents of the present volume. The papers address
the question of how different morphological patterns -- in
morphological rich languages which may be closely related or
typologically different -- are acquired in similar ways. They explain that
the ''Crosslinguistic Project on Pre- and Protomorphology''
distinguishes two phases in acquisition: in the premorphological phase
only few extragrammatical morphological operations occur and rote-
learnt forms are used. The system becomes dysfunctional, though,
when syntactic patterns which require morphological marking of
categories emerge. On the other hand and during the
protomorphological phase of language acquisition, the morphological
system begins to develop and children start to construct/acquire
morphological patterns.

Stephany, Ursula
Early development of grammatical number -- a typological perspective
(pp. 7-23)
Stephany discusses the development of grammatical number in the
early developmental stage (0;11-4;08) from a typological perspective;
Turkish, Finnish, Georgian, Hebrew, Lithuanian, Russian, Greek,
Northern and Austrian German, Italian, French and Yucatec Maya.
She takes in to consideration studies based on one child contra other
works in the literature which have been conducted on many children
for shorter periods of time. She attempts to address the following
questions: do the differences between agglutinating and fusional
languages influence the early development of nominal number
marking? What are the differences/similarities between the
developments of nominal marking in languages where it is marked
periphrastically versus those in which it is marked synthetically?
Finally, is the development of grammatical number influenced by the
obligatory versus facultative marking of nominal number? Stephany
reports that nominal number marking in agglutinating versus fusional
languages as well as its synthetic versus analytic means of marking is
not significantly different. She notes, though, that transparent marking
in languages such as Turkish and French is mastered more easily and
becomes productive more quickly than non-transparent one in
languages such as Greek, Lithuanian or Russian.

Stephany addresses the questions in a straightforward and
comprehensible way. The reader knows exactly which questions
around the development of grammatical number interest the author.
The author provides useful tables which summarise the findings. The
discussion of the development of number marking in agglutinating
versus fusional languages is detailed and clear. This section is the
lengthiest and the most interesting one. I believe that the paper could
have benefited, if a brief summary of how the morphological system of
nominal marking in each language works in general before emerging
on to the patterns employed by children, as it is not always clear what
the case is.

Voeikova, Marina
The acquisition of case in typologically different languages (pp. 25-44)
Voeikova discusses the acquisition of the case systems in Croatian,
Finnish, German, Greek, Hungarian, Lithuanian, Russian and Turkish.
She focuses around the question of whether children -who acquire
typologically different languages- show differences in the process of
mastering case distinctions and examines if this difference can be
explained in terms of the structure of each language. She concludes
that there are language-specific features that play role in the
acquisition of case systems. These may be syntactic, morphological or
phonological. Syntactic features play a significant role in languages
with periphrastic case marking, whereas in morphologically rich
languages children develop a system which is not always connected
to a syntactic development. On the other hand, in cases which involve
the development of declension classes based on phonological
patterns, children acquire case marking in an easier way. She clearly
shows that when inflectional classes are not predicted overtly based
on the phonological forms, children create a simplified system during
the transition from the premorphological to the protomorphological
stage in agglutinating languages in many cases.

This is an interesting paper on the acquisition of case from a
typological point of view. The discussion is clear and the paper is easy
to follow. Voeikova first gives the main properties and characteristics
of each language discussed and then moves on to the patterns
noticed in child language acquisition.

Kilani-Schoch, Marianne and Dressler, Wolfgang D.
The emergence of inflectional paradigms in two French corpora: an
illustration of general problems of pre- and protomorphology (pp. 45-
Kilani-Schoch and Dressler argue that the emergence and
development of morphological paradigms is an important level for the
construction of morphological patterns by children. They examine the
emergence of the first verb paradigms in two French children and
propose that the morphological development is completed in three
phases; pre-, proto- and modularised morphology. This consequently
means that there is a difference between the emergence, the
acquisition (Berman 1986) (during the pre-morphological stage with
no grammatical morphology) and the mastery (Radford 1990) of
morphological forms (protomorphological stage). In the
premorphological phase, morphological operations are
extragrammatical or role-learnt, whereas in the protomorphological
phase, the system begins to develop, first limited to some lemmas and
then increasing to new mini-paradigms.

The chapter is theoretical in nature. The goals and the questions are
well-presented. Exemplification of each point (both theoretical and
empirical) is also good. The paper would have benefited, though, if
the discussion of the findings has been further expanded, especially
the section on morphosemantics. An explanation on the
characteristics of macroclass and microclass would have also been

Klampher, Sabine and Korecky-Kröll, Katharina
Nouns and verbs at the transition from pre- to protomorphology: a
longitudinal case study on Austrian German (pp. 61-73)
The authors compare the development of nominal and verbal
morphology of an Austrian child focussing on the transition from pre-
to protomorphology. They find that asynchrony is observed in the
acquisition of nominal versus verbal morphology which is also parallel
with the developmental sequences in the lexical development.

This is a well-written paper. The purposes of the paper are clearly
defined in the first section. There is a good introduction to the data
they are using and the results are presented in a clear, simple and
coherent fashion. The tables, figures and examples provided also give
a complete picture of the issues involved and the results reached. The
sections are of equal length.

Pfeiler, Barbara
Noun and verb acquisition in Yucatec Maya (pp. 75-82)
The purpose of this paper is to determine whether verbs are learnt
later than nouns. The author attempts to present some findings
around the acquisition of verbal and nominal morphology in Yucatec
Maya. She concludes that the child first acquires deictic and
topicalisation suffixes and then pluralisation ones with animate nouns
and later possessive prefixes. On the other hand, the development of
verb inflection starts at the age of 2;0. Nouns are acquired first and
verbs are productively used only later on.

This is the shortest chapter in the volume. It is not clear whether it
presents the findings of previous studies or a new analysis, and it
appears to raise a lot more questions that what it actually addresses.
It summarises the patterns observed in different Maya languages
rather than what these results mean. The emphasis is put on verbs
and not nouns. The discussion around nouns is too brief and is
summarised to the extent where details which would provide crucial
information to the reader are omitted. The author notes that ''verbs
are learnt early, there is no prior noun explosion registered'' (p.77) but
concludes that ''early vocabulary is characterised by nouns and only
later by verbs'' (p.80). It is not clear, consequently, what the case is in
Yucatec Maya. The full form of MLU could have been provided.

Laalo, Klaus
Acquisition of case in Finnish: a preliminary overview (pp. 83-103)
Laalo discusses the acquisition of case in Finnish. He observes that
Finnish children use nouns in only one form (nominative singular) in
the very early stages. The first inflectional forms are the genitive and
the accusative ones which also signal the beginning of the
protomorphological phase. Local case suffixes are first used with
deictic adverbs and gradually develop. Finally, plural case suffixes are
first observed with partitive and nominative.

The paper gives a short summary of the morphological case system in
Finnish adult language and offers rich illustrations of each point
before turning on to the acquisition of the system by children. Each
case is discussed and explained in detail and exemplified with more
than one example. The conclusion is clear and concise.

Savickienė, Ineta
The emergence of case distinctions in Lithuanian (pp. 105-114)
The chapter by Savickienė discusses the emergence of case patterns
in Lithuanian in a simple and straightforward way. She observes that
the morphological forms are acquired early, whereas the meaning of
cases gradually. Although the discussion is interesting, it would have
been nice to see clearly how these patterns relate to theoretical
problems as far as language acquisition is concerned.

Voeikova, Maria and Gagarina, Natalia
MLU, first lexicon and the early stages in the acquisition of case forms
by two Russian children (pp. 115-131)
In the present chapter, the acquisition of nominal case forms by
Russian children is examined. The authors conclude that syntax and
morphology, on one hand, as well as morphology and lexicon, on the
other, are interdependent with language acquisition. They find that
there is a correspondence between MLU and PBF. Noun production
occurs before the onset of verb use.

The chapter has a theoretical scope. It is an interesting paper which
presents the data in a clear way, guides us through the processes
followed in the analysis of the data and summarises the main points. It
is the first paper in which cross-referencing is made and the reader
can actually see how it relates to other works in the volume as well
works which contribute to the project. Examples are well-presented
(examples with glosses and translations).

De Marco, Anna
The development of diminutives in Italian: input and acquisition (pp.
De Marco observes that the acquisition of diminutives occurs during
the early stages of the development. The pragmatic meaning emerges
sooner than the semantic one. When both diminutives and simplicia
are used in the same speech event, a pragmatic use of the
diminunitivised word is highlighted. She also observes a parallelism
between the production of diminutives in the child's and mother's

Marrero, Victoria, Albalá, Maria José and Moreno, Ignacio
Use of diminutives by children and adults in Spanish: a preliminary
analysis (pp. 153-162)
This is a short paper which presents the results of the quantitative
analysis concerning the use of diminutives in children and adult
speech. The authors guides the reader through the methodology
followed and summarise the results, although it would have been
interesting and far more comprehensible if the results had been
discussed in detail. They attempt to highlight some theoretical
implications but they only devote the last couple of paragraphs to
them. This does not permit the discussion to be either clear or
complete and consequently convincing.

Aguirre, Carmen
The acquisition of tense and aspect morphology: a key for semantic
interpretation (pp. 163-176)
Aguirre offers an interesting approach to the acquisition of tense and
aspect morphology brining data from Spanish. She adopts the
prototype theory to interpret the acquisition of tense and aspect. She
further suggests that the key to the understanding of meaning of
aspect and tense as well as to the establishment of their functional
positions lies on verbal morphology. She observes that when children
enter the protomorphological stage in verb morphology, agreement
and tense marking emerge in Spanish.

The present paper offers an interesting discussion on the acquisition
of tense and aspect by presenting different theoretical approaches
and frameworks. The main points of each theory are briefly but
concisely presented, whereas Aguirre provides a comprehensive
background of tense and aspect morphology in Spanish. It is a nicely
laid out paper which raises interesting questions and is easy to read.

Jelaska, Zrinka, Kovačević, Melita and Anđel, Maja
Morphology and semantics: the basics of Croatian case (pp. 177-189)
The paper discusses the morphology and the semantics of case in
Croatian. They observe that there is a parallel between the
characteristics of the words shared by both the input language and
the child's language. Moreover, the number of tokens in child as well
as input languages concentrates around the prototypical members.

This works presents some interesting results which nevertheless
should be incorporated within a wider theoretical context.


The volume presents some interesting findings on child language
acquisition. There are papers which clearly report on findings,
whereas others which discuss the theoretical implications of the data
and the results. The length of the papers varies which may also affect
their value.

Leaving aside the merit of the contributions, it is not clear how and if
each paper is linked to the rest within the volume. It is not clear how
the book is organised or why it is organised in this way. (The chapters
are not organised in alphabetical order. The acquisition of case is
discussed in chapters 2, 6, 7, 8, 12.) It would have been nice to see
cross-referencing within the contributions, especially once there are
papers which examine the same morphological patterns in different
language sets, eg. the acquisition of case. This creates a feeling of
incompleteness to the reader and does not make the volume as user-
friendly as it might have been expected to. The main problem is that it
is not clear how the twelve papers all blend together. Based on the
way they are arranged, it could be taken that they are individual works
which have not been developed under the light of the ''Crosslinguistic
project of Pre- and Protomorphology''. These issues could have been
avoided, if the editors had explained the order in which contributions

The differences in the layout, omissions and typos - which are
summarised in what follows - further suggest that the volume does not
have a unified character.

The header is wrong. Instead of ''Early development of grammatical
number -- a typological perspective'', it appears as ''The acquisition of
case in typologically different languages'', the title of the next

Footnote (1) corresponds to two separate parts in the text. In the first
instance, the number of the footnote comes before the fullstop,
whereas in the second one after the fullstop.

Kilani-Schoch and Dressler:
- All footnote numbers come before the fullstop in this paper, despite
the fact that their numbering precedes punctuation marks both in
general and throughout this book.
- p.45/55: parts of the paragraphs are not fully justified, as the
remaining of the text.
- p.56: A reference is missing for sign-based morphology.

Klampher and Korecky—Kröll
- p.61: the number of sections in this chapter begins with (0) and not
(1) as in the previous papers.
- p.62: Problems with the use of punctuation mark after number of
footnote (3) in the text.
- p.65: Unjustified paragraph.

- p.75: not all paragraphs are fully justified.
- p.80/81: problems with the use of punctuation marks.
- p.81: In the references, Peters (1996) appears before Peters (1983).
Also page numbers appear before the publishers' information, contra
the formatting following in the remaining papers.

- p.83: paragraph is not fully justified.
- p.83: ''plural suffix --t'': this should have been in italics.
- References section: books do not appear in italics. In edited works,
editors are not cited following the conventional pattern. (Ed.) does not
appear in brackets after the names of the editors.

- The layout of this paper is completely different to the one followed in
the remaining of the book as far as the numbering and the headers of
the sections as well as the line breaking are concerned (headers are
not separated from the body of the sections, they proceed it on the
same line. Empty lines separate the paragraphs.).
- An abstract is provided with this paper. Not all papers include one.
- Age is given in boldface. This is not the case everywhere else.
- References section: Not all book titles appear in italics. In edited
works, the names of editors appear after the book title and before the
publishers' information (eg. Dressler and Karpf 1995).

Voeikova and Gagarina:
- In this paper, sections are not numbered.
- Kiebzak appears as (1999) in the text, whereas as (2000) in the
references section.
- p.117: ''poexal'' should have been given in italics.
- p.118: ''consists in'' instead of ''consists of''.
- p.119: Dressler et al. (1995-1996) in text but Dressler et al. (1996) in
- p.119: footnote number appears before punctuation mark.
- p. 121: Krasil'nikova (1993) in text but Krasil'nikova (1990) in

De Marco:
- One page abstract is given in this case.
- The numbering of figures appears on top of the figures which is not
common practise in the rest of the papers, as for instance in Voeikova
and Gagarina's.
- In the references section, page number may be given after the
booktitle and before the publishers' information or at the very end.
- References section: ''and'' is missing from De Marco, A., L. Tonelli.

Marrero, Albalá, Moreno:
- Sections are not numbered.
- Tables and figures are not numbered.
- pp.159-160: Unjustified paragraphs.

- p.166: When examples are given within the text, it is common
practise they appear in italics. They do not, though, throughout the
present work (p.166 versus p.167).
- p.166: ''… to be a present perfect form1.'': (1) is probably a typo.
- p.169: footnote number appears before the punctuation mark.
- p.172, footnote (3): Aguirre 2002, the date should have been in

Jelaska, Kovačević and Anđel:
- An abstract is included in this chapter.
- The numbering of sections begins with (0) and not (1).
- p.189: References are given on a separate page. This practice is not
followed throughout the rest of the volume.


Berman, R. (1986). A step-by-step model of language acqusition. In I.
Levin (Ed.) Stage and structure. Norwood: Ablex. pp. 191-219.

Dressler, W. U. and A. Karpf. (1995). The theoretical relevance of pre-
and protomorphology in language acquisition. In G. Booij and J. van
Marle (Eds.) Yearbook of morphology 1994. Dordrecht: Kluwer
Academic Publishers. pp. 99-122.

Peters, A. N. (1983). The units of language acquisition. New York:
Cambridge University Press.

_____. (1996). Strategies in the acquisition of syntax. In P. Fletcher
and B. MacWhinney (Eds.) The handbook of child language. Oxford:
Blackwell Publishers. pp. 462-482.

Radford, A. (1990). Syntactic theory and the acquisition of English
syntax. Oxford: Blackwell.

Alexandra Galani is a member of the Department of Language and
Linguistic Science at the University of York (England). She has been
working on the morphosyntax of tense and aspect in Modern Greek
within Distributed Morphology. Her main research interests are:
syntax/morphology interface, morphology/phonology interface,
allomorphy, suppletion, the lexicon and the acquisition of morphology.