Language Acquisition and Language Variation: The Role of Morphology

W. Snyder, 1995

for $19.95 x

Evidence from comparative syntax is combined with evidence from child language acquisition to address foundational questions about the mental representation of language-particular syntactic knowledge.  Three principal models of language-particular (parametric) knowledge are evaluated: (1) the "switch-box" model, in which the values of parameters are highly abstract and have widespread grammatical consequences independent of any particular lexical item; (2) the "lexical" model, in which points of variation are expressed in terms of the morphosyntactic properties of specific lexical items, especially functional heads; and (3) the "morphological" model, in which points of syntactic variation are determined by overt characteristics of morphology.

An investigation of the morphosyntax of number and degree expressions with noun and adjective phrases indicates that the point of variation determining the syntax of number expressions with NPs also determines the syntax of degree expressions with APs.  Yet, cross-linguistically, the syntax of number and degree is shown to be independent of any overt morphology.  Hence, even where a syntactic parameter can readily be tied to the morphosyntax of functional heads, overt morphology does not exert any necessary effect on the setting of the parameter.  A related, acquisitional investigation of the phenomenon of Noun-drop in Spanish is also reported, though the results are less clear-cut.

In one domain, however, an important link is demonstrated between parametric syntax and overt morphology.  Languages are shown to permit complex predicate constructions of the type exemplified by the English resultative, if and only if they freely permit the formation of novel Noun-Noun compounds.  Moreover, the age when a child acquiring English first produces complex predicates such as verb-particle combinations, is predicted with remarkable accuracy by the age when the child first produces novel Noun-Noun compounds.  The complex-predicate/compounding connection is argued to follow from properties of the syntax-semantics interface; a formalization is provided within a neo-Davidsonian framework.  The relevant parameter is shown to be independent of any single lexical item.  The findings from complex predicates and number/degree expressions, taken together, indicate that points of parameter variation in syntax are not necessarily tied either to overt morphology or to a specific lexical item.

Thesis Supervisor:         Kenneth Wexler

Title:                             Professor of Psychology and Linguistics


Table of Contents

1          Introduction: knowledge of language                                                                  13

            1.1       Preview                                                                                                13

            1.2       Issues in grammatical representation                                                      15

            1.3       Methodological perspective                                                                  18

            1.4       Theoretical perspective                                                             22

2          Complex predicates and morphological compounds                                           25

            2.1       Introduction                                                                                          25

            2.2       A cross-linguistic survey of resultatives and N-N compounds     28

            2.3       Children"s acquisition of complex predicates and N-N compounds        38

            2.4       Explaining the association of complex predicates and

compounding                                                                                        45

            2.5       Theoretical implications for syntax, morphology, and acquisition 59

            2.6       Addendum: Korean                                                                              63

3          Noun-drop and morphological paradigms                                                          68

            3.1       Introduction                                                                                          68

            3.2       Case-study: Juan                                                                                  77

            3.3       English-speaking controls: Adam and Eve                                              87

            3.4       Conclusions                                                                                          92

4          The morphosyntax of number and degree                                                          97

            4.1       Introduction                                                                                          97

            4.2       A cross-linguistic survey of number morpholofy and the syntax

                        of quantity                                                                                            104

            4.3       A cross-linguistic survey of the syntax of degree                                    121

            4.4       Children"s acquisition of number, quantity, and degree               134

            4.5       Discussion                                                                                            148

5          Conclusions in Summary                                                                                   152