CIRCL: André Eliatamby (Syntax)

OCT 09, 2018 | 6:30 PM TO 8:00 PM



The Graduate Center
365 Fifth Avenue




October 09, 2018: 6:30 PM-8:00 PM




André Eliatamby presents on a topic in Syntax.

Title: The Phrasal Status of Early English Negative Markers

Negation in childhood English provides an interesting puzzle for language acquisition research since, as Klima and Bellugi (1966) first demonstrated, children use a combination of non-target and target forms to express verbal negation:

(1)        * They not go there

(2)        * It not fit there

(3)        I don’t want that

I present a corpus-based investigation into the role of Minimalist syntax in the acquisition of negative markers in child English. In particular, I test a theory of syntactic acquisition which characterizes English negator development as the setting of a parameter that specifies whether negation occurs adverbially (as a vP-adjunct) or requires a Negation Phrase (NegP) projection (Zeijlstra 2004; 2008). Applied to the problem of first language acquisition, one proposal of the parameter’s involvement in English development claims that all early negators are both adverbial and monomorphemic (Thornton and Tesan, 2013; Thornton and Rombough, 2015), such that (1)-(3) have the same underlying syntactic structures. The acquisition of n’t as a morphosyntactic head is said to correlate with the child’s productive use of doesn’t and marks their convergence to the target grammar.

I performed four statistical analyses on child production data taken from the Manchester corpus (Theakston et al. 2001) from the CHILDES (MacWhinney 2000) database of child speech transcripts. My findings show that negator development cannot be captured by the proposed parameter alone; the evidence suggests that children do not treat don’t phrasally, but are also conservative in their usage of n’t early in development. The implications of this contradiction are that the parameter value as conceived does not account for the development English-learning children undergo when acquiring negative markers.

All are welcome!