AcqVA Colloquium

The talks will take place at the Dragvoll campus in Trondheim.

August 28, 2018, room 4402D, 14:15
Dr Marta Velnic, UiT The Arctic University of Norway

The use of word order alternates in Croatian ditransitives: the role of animacy and givenness
In this talk, I discuss the usage of two grammatical alternates in relation to animacy and givenness of the referents. The examined structure are ditransitives in Croatian, in which both object orders are attested (IO-DO and DO-IO). The talk will go through a collection of four papers in which child language is the main focus, but the adult productions are also explored.

The methodology of this research consists of an investigation of child corpora (both child and child directed speech), an acceptability judgment task (only for adults), and two elicitation tasks. The results are compatible and will be discussed with a unified account.

The main finding of this collection of papers is that animacy strongly affects children’s choice of word order. The results show that IO-DO is more frequently attested in naturalistic data, in which the recipient is prototypically animate and the theme is inanimate. Conversely, the experimental studies reveal that when the two factors are neutralised, DO-IO is the preferred order (acceptability task) and it is also used more when animacy is balanced (elicitation task). I argue that this might be an indication of the underlying status of the DO-IO order in Croatian ditransitives. The results also reveal that, on the one hand, both adults and children are sensitive to animacy, but children are more sensitive to it. On the other hand, children are less sensitive to givenness than adults as they are not consistent in applying the given<new order, but nevertheless, this factor has an effect of the referring expressions of both children and adults as the given element is more likely to be expressed as clitic or omitted altogether. 

September 6, 2018, room 4402D, 14:15
Associate Professor Michael T. Putnam, Pennsylvania State University

The syntax of aspect in Pennsylvania

In the ever-expanding literature on grammatical facets of heritage and minority languages, one domain that has to date received limited coverage when compared with others concerns the syntax of tense and aspect. In this talk I explore two phenomena in connection with the aspectual system of Pennsylvania Dutch; namely, (1) the morphosyntactic marking of imperfective aspect (by the morpheme am), and (2) the structural properties of aspectual verbs (such as staerte (English ‘to start’)). Pennsylvania Dutch, an Eastern Palatinate-based Germanic language spoken primarily by faithful members of particular congregations of the Amish and Mennonites, has co-existed with English for over 300 years and has approximately 300,000 native speakers. Adopting an exo-skeletal approach to the syntax of aspect (Borer, 2005, 20013; Arche, 2006, 2014; Stowell, 2012), I illustrate how the the morpheme am (head of AspP), which originally only marked progressive aspect, has spread to other imperfective contexts (i.e., generics and habituals). With respect to the syntax of aspectual verbs, following Louden (2016), I provide additional evidence that the infinitival verb form can also function as a gerundive in certain contexts. Through this brief investigation of these two related grammatical elements, I will discuss how the syntax of aspect (as well as the grammar as a whole) continues to evolve and whether we should consider Pennsylvania Dutch to be a hybrid grammar in the sense of Aboh (2015).

October 22, 2018, room 3432, 14:15
Professor Leonie Cornips, Maastrict University & Meertens Institute (KNAW)

A socio-syntax approach: acquisition of the gender of the definite determiner, and identity construction through gender ‘mismatches’
The aim of this talk is to examine child acquisition of the grammatical gender of definite determiners in Dutch from various perspectives. Dutch classifies nouns into two grammatical genders: common and neuter. In this talk I focus on the singular definite determiner: common nouns take de; neuter nouns take het. Acquisition of neuter gender is a long-lasting process for Dutch speaking children, they do not acquire it before the age of six (Blom et al. 2008).

In this talk, I will first compare monolingual, bilingual and bidialectal acquisition of the gender of the definite determiner in spontaneous and experimental Dutch data to show that various groups of child learners differ in the acquisition rate of grammatical gender i.e. neuter gender. Second, Roodenburg & Hulk (2008) and Tsimpli & Hulk (2013) attribute the late acquisition of Dutch (neuter) gender to a number of internal factors such as the lack of a gender distinction in plural and indefinite DPs, the lack of morphological cues on the head noun, the status of het ‘the’ as a pronoun as properties of the gender system in Dutch which complicate the learner’s process of discovering unambiguous and salient gender cues (cf. Unsworth et al. 2011). Therefore, I compare the acquisition process in Dutch with Danish discussing research by Cornips & Gregersen (2017) and Gregersen, Cornips & Boeg Thomsen (subm)) since Danish almost reveals similar gender specification as in Dutch but has more gender cues. These gender cues speed up the acquisition process of (neuter) gender in Danish compared to Dutch.

Finally, I will show that variation between the determiners de and het is part of social identity constructions by some bilinguals, and indexical for language use of Dutch youngsters with a Moroccan background. Although their speech is characterized by overuse of de with neuter nouns (instead of het), media stylization (cf. Depperman 2007), in particular, mock and parody of their speech by ‘others’ inform their use of stylized Dutch-Moroccan on social media in which het is overused with common nouns.  Sociolinguistic processes are thus crucial to investigate when examining child acquisition processes.

December 4, 2018, room 4402D, 14:15
Professor Misha Becker, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill

Children’s Acquisition of Emotion Adjectives
Emotion adjectives label states that we experience individually and internally, and which are sometimes (but not always) made evident through facial expressions. Recent psychological evidence points to a role for emotion words in shaping our construction of emotion concepts, but this raises the question of how the emotion words themselves are learned in the first place. The Syntactic Bootstrapping literature on word learning tells us that property-denoting words (i.e. predicates) are learned most reliably through cues from sentence structure: the subcategorization frames in which a verb occurs restricts its lexical meaning to a large degree. But very little research has examined how this word-learning process might work for adjectives, in particular those that denote internal states.

In this talk I’ll describe two word-learning experiments that examined the relative impact of sentence frames and situational context cues (short vignettes) on children’s assumptions about the meaning of novel adjectives. I’ll also discuss some preliminary results from a corpus study of emotion words in Child-Directed Speech.

I’ll suggest that while sentence frames do play an important role in restricting the lexical meanings of emotion words, like they do for other types of predicates, we need to look more closely at how the “unreliable” situational context also provides cues to word meaning.

December 11, 2018, room 4402D, 14:15 – NB! CANCELLED
Professor Jennifer Smith, University of Glasgow

The sociosyntactic sat-nav: Tracking the development of variation through the childhood years

Over the past 60 years, Variationist Sociolinguistics has documented the highly structured patterns of variation in everyday speech. Much of this research has concentrated on adolescent and adult vernacular norms, but far less is known about the linguistic journey that a child embarks on in acquiring these norms. How and when do these patterns of variation first arise in child speech, and how do they subsequently develop?

In this talk I address this question through a real-time panel study of children in a small community in north east Scotland, recorded in the preschool years in interaction with their primary caregivers, and later in preadolescence.

The analysis focuses on the quantitative analysis of negative declaratives, a stable morphosyntactic variable which can be realised in three different ways in this community – the standard variant (1a, 2a), the pan-Scots variant (1b, 2b) and the more locally circumscribed variant (1c, 2c).

Lucy, age 3;2
(1)  a. But I don’t want to read that.
b. Mam, I’ll have to take off this so I dona get all soup on it.
c. I na like this.

Lucy, age 12
(2)   a. Well I just don’t know.
b. But most of the time we dona watch a film.
c. I na think it’s that scary.

In acquiring this variable in the childhood years, the results reveal sociosyntactic twists and turns on the road en route from caregiver and home to peers and the playground. I discuss how the details of this complex linguistic journey can contribute to our understanding of how a grammar is organised in the earlier stages of language development, and how this impacts on variation in later life.