The acquisition of agreement in four 
Mayan languages

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This paper presents results of a comparative project documenting the development of verbal agreement inflections in children learning four different Mayan languages: K’iche’, Tzeltal, Tzotzil, and Yukatek. These languages have similar inflectional paradigms: they have a generally agglutinative morphology, with transitive verbs obligatorily marked with separate cross-referencing inflections for the two core arguments (‘ergative’ and ‘absolutive’). Verbs are also inflected for aspect and mood, and they carry a ‘status suffix’ which generally marks verb transitivity and mood. At a more detailed level, the four languages differ strikingly in the realization of cross-reference marking. For each language, we examined longitudinal language production data from two children at around 2;0, 2;6, 3;0, and 3;6 years of age. We relate differences in the acquisition patterns of verbal morphology in the languages to (1) the placement of affixes, (2) phonological and prosodic prominence, (3) language-specific constraints on the various forms of the affixes, and (4) consistent vs. split ergativity, and conclude that prosodic salience accounts provide the best explanation for the acquisition patterns in these four languages.


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