The concepts of possession and ownership are among the first to be expressed by children when they start acquiring language. This chapter starts with an overview of the properties of possession cross-linguistically followed by a review of the literature on the acquisition of possession in five languages—English, German, Greek, Hebrew, and Japanese. The studies on the acquisition of possession are discussed in relation to learnability issues and avenues are identified for future research on the acquisition of possession.
Sonja Eisenbeiss, Bhuvana Narasimhan, and Maria Voeikova
Case is one of the most heterogeneous nominal morphological categories: the number of case forms in morphological paradigms, the syntactic and semantic functions of case, and the set of declension classes differ even in typologically similar languages. Hence, the acquisition of case presents the child with a major learning challenge. This article presents empirical studies and theoretical perspectives on case acquisition in children, focusing on generative, natural morphology, cognitive-functional, and usage-based approaches. The empirical focus is on the acquisition of accusative, ergative, and split case systems. The article also explores productivity in children's early case forms, the role of nature or nurture in the acquisition of case, form-meaning mappings in the acquisition of case, and the time course of case development.
Jill de Villiers and Tom Roeper
The development of complementation engages high-level parametric variation, a variety of separate modules, and very specific lexical variation across the possible grammars in UG. In particular, finiteness, argument structure, control, empty categories, and recursion all present separate challenges and create an intricate grammatical acquisition path for any child. The essential question is: how does the CP node expand from small clauses to infinitives to tensed clauses? The next question is: how does the grammar interface with cognition, as complements express propositional attitudes, and false beliefs? We survey empirical research that documents descriptive work on the growth of complementation and theoretical research addressed to linking rules and movement rules. We survey both what is known and new questions that need to be investigated.
The chapter illustrates variation associated with ergative alignment and properties of ergative languages that might impact on acquisition of the system. Language input, the social context and developmental patterns are also discussed, as are criteria for determining when a system has been acquired. Examples provided represent different language families and geographic areas. Also included are more detailed examples: for Kaluli, which has a split ergative system, dependent on word order and pragmatic factors; for Arctic Quebec Inuktitut which employs detransitivisation processes to change the role of the arguments of bivalent verbs; and for Warlpiri which has frequent ellipsis of core arguments, so reducing the frequency of ergative marking in the input. The data illustrate that split morphological systems and variable use of ergative marking do not seem to be problematic overall. By the age of 2.5 or 3 years, children show knowledge of the system.
Stanka A. Fitneva
How do children learn the evidential system of their language? The primary goal of this chapter is to summarize existing research on this topic. Its secondary goal is to position this research within a broader framework of investigating language development focusing on the learner, the target language, and the environment as key explanatory factors. The chapter reviews both observational and experimental studies, the latter exploring the production and comprehension of evidentials as well as their use in assessing the reliability of information. This research provides insight primarily into the contributions of cognitive processes to children’s learning of evidentials. The data, however, also hint at how the environment, in particular socialization processes, could help children break the code of evidentials, suggesting that this may be the next frontier of research in the area.
Keiko Murasugi and Koji Sugisaki
This article investigates a number of issues concerning parameter setting and developmental factors in language acquisition. It is mainly limited to studies on the acquisition of syntax that provide intriguing empirical findings. The studies of Japanese acquisition confirm the early emergence of Universal Grammar principles, but the syntactic phenomena that are taken up to demonstrate this point are quite different from those in the acquisition of English, which makes these studies quite intriguing from the viewpoint of acquisition theory. The article also indicates that the time course of child language acquisition is a potentially rich source of evidence concerning the parameters of variation permitted by human language. It is hoped that the connection between acquisitional investigations and theoretical studies of the Japanese language will be further tightened in the future.
Bill Forshaw, Lucinda Davidson, Barbara Kelly, Rachel Nordlinger, Gillian Wigglesworth, and Joe Blythe
This chapter reports on initial findings of an ongoing large-scale research project into the acquisition of Murrinhpatha, a polysynthetic language of the Daly River region of the Northern Territory of Australia with complex morphology. The complex verbal structures in Murrinhpatha, which can contain a large number of morphemes and bipartite stem morphology discontinuously distributed throughout the verbal template, raise a multitude of questions for acquisition. In this chapter we focus particularly on the acquisition of the complex predicate system in the verb, and the acquisition of subject-marking categories and tense/aspect/mood. Our findings are based on the language development of five Murrinhpatha acquiring children aged from 2;7–4;11 years.
Sabine Stoll, Balthasar Bickel, and Jekaterina Mažara
In first language acquisition research so far little is known about the affordances involved in children's acquisition of morphologies of different complexities. This chapter discusses the acquisition of Chintang verbal morphology. Chintang is a Sino-Tibetan (Kiranti) polysynthetic language spoken in a small village in Eastern Nepal by approximately 6,000 speakers. The most complex part of Chintang morphology is verbal inflection. A large number of affixes, verb compounding, and freedom in prefix ordering results in over 1,800 verb forms of single stem verbs and more than 4,000 forms if a secondary stem is involved. In this chapter we assess the challenges of learning such a complex system, and we describe in detail what this acquisition process looks like. For this we analyze a large longitudinal acquisition corpus of Chintang.
Joshua Viau and Ann Bunger
Children acquiring any language must develop an understanding both of how event components are encoded in verb meanings and of the argument structure of those verbs, that is, how the participants of the event that each verb describes map onto linguistic arguments. This chapter begins with an overview of the major issues in the study of argument structure, including a consideration of the balance of power between verbs and constructions as it pertains to the encoding of thematic relations and a comparison of theoretical approaches with an eye toward learnability. The core of the chapter consists of a comprehensive synthesis of the current state of developmental research on argument structure.
Children’s use of case and agreement morphology offers a window into the structure of their developing grammatical systems. Children acquiring English commonly produce accusative pronouns in subject position, and use verb forms lacking agreement morphology. The systematic patterns in these errors and correlations between them have been the subject of a great deal of research over the past few decades. This chapter lays out some of the results to date and the theoretical interpretations they have led to, as well as points of debate on methodology. The discussion centers around English, with other languages considered where predictions differ, and the topics include a general overview of the relation of case and agreement, optional/root infinitives, default case, and morphological access.
Children's comprehension and production of (mainly noun + noun) compound constructions have been the subject of substantial research over the past twenty years or so. This chapter looks at the acquisition of compounds, primarily in English and Hebrew, from the perspectives both of naturalistic and experimental data. It considers the extent to which the age and sequence of acquisition of compounds might be a matter of typological differences in languages.
A Comparative Study of the Acquisition of Nominative and Ergative Alignment in European and Mayan Languages
Clifton Pye and Barbara Pfeiler
This chapter compares the acquisition of nominative clitic and agreement markers in French and Spanish with the acquisition of person marking in the Mayan languages Wastek, Yukatek, Ch’ol and K’iche’. Whereas Spanish has a full nominative agreement paradigm on verbs, French relies upon pronominal clitics to mark person. Mayan languages use ergative and absolutive person markers. The acquisition data provide independent evidence for the clitic or agreement nature of the ergative and absolutive morphemes. Children acquired the ergative morphemes differently in the four Mayan languages indicating that the ergative morphemes are linguistically distinct. Only the Yukatek children’s production of the absolutive markers was similar to children’s production of agreement in Spanish. The results indicate that only absolutive agreement in Yukatek can be identified with nominative agreement in Spanish. A simple dichotomy between clitic and agreement does not explain the different production profiles of Mayan children.
Humans acquire language naturally, namely without specific instruction, by being exposed to it and by interacting with other human beings. According to the generativist enterprise, humans are endowed with a system of knowledge on the form of possible human languages (Universal Grammar). Evidence consistent with this assumption is provided in the chapter, by illustrating crucial phenomena ranging from the acquisition of phonology, to morphosyntax, syntax, formal semantics, and pragmatics. Infants’ brain organization is tuned to speech stimuli and presents left hemisphere specialization, from the first days of life, if not already in the mother’s womb. Infants set apart languages at two days of age, based on durational or rhythmic properties. Toddlers combine words by respecting the basic word order and are very sensitive to the hierarchical organization of sentences, both when it comes to the syntactic structure and when it comes to the interpretation of sentences.
The acquisition of morphology is one of the major challenges in first language acquisition and the tasks children encounter vary to an extreme degree across different languages. The acquisition of morphological markers is presented from a cross-linguistic perspective with special focus on those characteristics of morphology which are relevant for acquisition. The chapter aims to give an overview of studies illuminating exactly this variation in a wide variety of typologically different languages. Special emphasis is placed on the interplay of individual grammars and learning strategies and on the question of whether morphological learning is better explained by the application of rules or rather by a step-by-step process of learning individual constructions, which are then generalized to more abstract schemas. A major challenge in acquisition studies is the question of how to determine productivity. The chapter presents some recent proposals in this domain, based on research on longitudinal corpora.
This chapter discusses a number of developmental disorders that impact language acquisition, and their possible relevance to understanding how language is typically acquired. The chapter begins with a discussion of whether language can be selectively impaired relative to general cognitive abilities, and whether it can be selectively spared. The second half of the chapter discusses how exactly language does and does not “go wrong.” The topics include the relevance of “deviance” and whether there is any evidence for it, and a discussion of the critical importance of both cross-disorder comparisons of the same linguistic phenomena, and of cross-linguistic comparisons of children with the same disorder.
This article presents a case study concerning the grammatical basis of language development. It discusses the trend for developmental research characterized by the use of sophisticated linguistic models of the principles and parameters/minimalism type, and by the adoption of the comparative perspective, with full use of the theoretical apparatus of modern comparative syntax. The article discusses topic drop and root subject drop and investigates why the root subject drop parameter appears to permit a delayed resetting on the negative value, thus giving rise to observable developmental effects.
Children face several critical challenges in acquiring tense and aspect, one of which concerns the variability in linguistic marking, which encompasses a wide range. Nevertheless, children do use tense and aspect morphosyntax from a young age, and by and large, appear to use it correctly. This article discusses primary-language acquisition and examines specific evidence illustrating the nature of children's competence with temporal semantics, beginning with an analysis of an apparent error (an under-extension) in children's early language production and then proceeding to specific evaluations of their knowledge of Aktionsart (lexical aspect), grammatical aspect, and tense. It also examines aspectual under-extensions in children's language production, theoretical approaches to children's temporal under-extensions, past imperfective forms, and discourse functions of grammatical aspect.
The use of default agreement plays a key role in morphological theories from diverse perspectives, as well as in many analyses of child language acquisition. In this paper, the development of ergative and dative agreement and case in 20 bilingual and 11 monolingual Basque-speaking children between 2;00-3;06 years old is examined. I propose that the most commonly-produced errors in child Basque involve the substitution of unmarked absolutive forms for ergative and dative case and dative verbal morphemes; for independent reasons, the absolutive is considered to be unmarked inflection in adult Basque (Arregi and Nevins, 2012). These errors suggest that in early stages of morphological acquisition, children learning Basque use default forms which encode a subset of the morphemes as a “best match” to support their developing language when they are unable to produce or retrieve target forms.