University of Cambridge > > RCEAL Tuesday Colloquia > Clitic (Mis)Placement in Early Grammars: Evidence from Cypriot Greek

Clitic (Mis)Placement in Early Grammars: Evidence from Cypriot Greek

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The first language acquisition of clitic constructions has been widely studied cross-linguistically (such as Hamann et al. 1996 for French, Schaeffer 1997 for Dutch, Costa at al. 2007 et seq. for European Portuguese, Marinis 2000 for Greek, Guasti 1993/94 for Italian, Babyonyshev & Marin 2005 for Romanian, Ilic & Ud Deen 2003 for Serbo-Croatian, Wexler et al. 2004 for Spanish). The focus of acquisitional studies regarding the syntax of pronominal clitics has been the phenomenon of clitic realisation and omission, namely why there are early languages that exhibit clitic omission and early languages that do not. There is, however, another interesting discrepancy among clitic languages: languages that exhibit clitic misplacement at the onset of L1 acquisition and languages that do not. So far, the phenomenon of clitic misplacement has been observed in early European Portuguese (Costa & Lobo 2007, Duarte & Matos 2000), and early Cypriot-Greek (Petinou & Terzi 2002), but not in early Standard Modern Greek, French, Italian or Spanish. The investigation of this non-adult-like pattern in child language is expected to offer useful indications for the manifestation of syntactic operations involved in clitic placement.

I present a study on the L1 acquisition of clitic placement in Cypriot Greek, based on spontaneous speech and experimental data. Spontaneous speech data are comprised of one-hour recordings of nine Greek-Cypriot children, aged 2;3 – 3;4, two of which were also followed longitudinally for a period of six months. The experimental investigation involves the implementation of semi-structured elicitation techniques, including a picture-based task and a puzzle task, in young Greek-Cypriot children, 2-, 3- and 4-year-olds. Data analysis reveals a different pattern for the acquisition of enclisis and proclisis environments. Enclisis contexts are adult-like from the onset, whereas proclisis contexts remain problematic for some children, who produce post-verbal instead of pre-verbal clitics. Children’s clitic placement shows a bi-modal distribution and their choices are systematic. Some children below the age of three overgeneralize the enclisis pattern independently of the syntactic environment. This result is explained as a consequence of the overgeneralization of verb movement across syntactic contexts at the onset of L1 acquisition.

This talk is part of the RCEAL Tuesday Colloquia series.

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