Early Object Omission in Child French and English

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We examine the syntactic nature of object omissions in child language with a study comparing French and English-speaking children’s elicited production. We adopt a theoretical approach to transitivity where interactions between modules of the grammar create a rich and flexible system of null objects in French (category N or <i>pro</i>); whereas a language like English contains only the former. The different complexity in the input predicts acquisitional differences between the two languages. Children heard stories with an individuated object referent (<i>What did X do with y?)</i> and stories that did not individuate an object referent (<i>What did X do?)</i>. Results show that French children had substantially higher rates of omissions in both illicit and optional null object contexts than either French adults or English speaking children. We propose that French children, faced with a variety of null objects in the input, retain the minimal null N, overextending it beyond adult distribution.


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