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The acquisition of extended ergativity in Mam, Q’anjob’al and Yucatec

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Abstract

Ergativity in Mayan languages is realized in the cross-referencing features on verbs rather than as case marking features on noun phrases. Overt absolutive markers appear with intransitive verbs. Some Mayan languages extend the ergative markers to intransitive verbs in aspectless complement clauses. The languages also make changes to transitive verbs in the same aspectless contexts. We evaluate how Mam, Q’anjob’al and Yucatec children acquire the extension of the ergative markers to intransitive verbs and the changes to transitive verbs in aspectless clauses. In each language we analyzed data of three children in the age range of 2;0 to 3;0. Our findings show that: (i) although the three languages have similar patterns of extended ergativity, children are sensitive to language-specific constraints on extended ergativity; (ii) the input frequency does not predict the acquisition of extended ergativity. We conclude that the structure of each language is responsible for the acquisition of extended ergativity.

References

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