Case-Finiteness Contingencies in Child Language
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Publisher:The Ohio State University
Series/Report no.:The Ohio State University. Department of Spanish and Portuguese Honors Theses; 2010
This study investigates the link between verb inflection and pronominal case forms in child language. Child English-speakers produce a mixture of finite and nonfinite verbs combined with nominative and accusative subject pronouns, as well as adult-like utterances. Our research aims to determine whether a grammatical connection exists between the pronoun case form of the subject and verb finiteness marking. Also discussed is the role of paradigm regularity in the representation of tense in child English and the bare forms that children prefer. The results of the three administered tests are discussed in light of nativist and constructivist theories of language development. Results correspond largely with nativist accounts of child syntax, which claim that the syntactic position of the subject and the abstract finiteness properties of the verb are responsible for assigning case. The results are inconsistent with constructivist accounts, which posit that case-finiteness contingencies are a product of co-occurrence of forms in the input, as a function of frequency. The administration of grammaticality judgment tasks controls the forms in the input, presenting an equal amount of grammatical and ungrammatical structures. Presented with the same amount of grammatical and ungrammatical utterances, children overall preferred the adult-like combination of nominative subjects and finite verbs. Three grammaticality judgment tests were administered to each child in this study: the Pronoun Case test, the Verb Finiteness test, and the Case-Finiteness test. Each item in the tests consisted of two sentences, one adult-like and the other child-like in form. Children were asked to choose the sentence they believed to be correct. A total of 62 children participated in this study, 48 of whom passed all three tasks.
Arts and Sciences Undergraduate Research Scholarship
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