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Word order and finiteness in acquisition

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Abstract

Children acquiring languages such as English, German or Dutch typically go through a phase where they produce non-finite root clauses, often referred to as the Optional Infinitive (OI) stage. But there is a difference between English on the one hand and the other Germanic languages on the other with respect to the occurrence of non-finite wh-questions: while there is a high number of OIs in English in this context, non-finite wh-questions are virtually non-existent in child data of e.g. German or Swedish. This is often argued to be due to the early setting of the V2 parameter. Comparing Norwegian and English child data on wh-questions, this paper argues that there is no such parameter and that children instead are sensitive to fine syntactic distinctions in the input called micro-cues. On this view, both English and Norwegian have restricted V2 in wh-questions. The paper also shows that there is no causal correlation between finiteness morphology and word order in this context. Children’s non-finite root clauses are argued to generally be caused by a problem realizing auxiliaries, in both languages, and the difference between English and Norwegian is due to the type of verb required in wh-questions (auxiliaries vs. lexical verbs).

References

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