Subjects, Sentential Negation and Imperatives in Child Spanish and Catalan

John Allen Ray Grinstead
University of California, Los Angeles, 1998
Professor Nina M. Hyams, Chair

Using naturalistic child Spanish data collected from an original study as well as Catalan data from the CHILDES data base (MacWhinney and Snow, 1985), I observe that in an early stage of child Catalan and Spanish, no overt subjects are used. at this same age and MLU, child speakers of overt subject languages such as Dutch and English use at least some overt subjects optionally. I explain this cross-linguistic variation by suggesting that the adult target grammars vary with respect to the position in which overt subjects are realized. In the overt subject languages, subjects are realized in the canonical specifier of IP position, whereas in the null subject languages (such as Catalan and Spanish) subjects are located in a topic/focus position. I further argue that an early stage of development, the topic-focus field is inactive, hence overt subjects fail to be realized by children acquiring these languages. Related to this difference in the position of the overt subject, is a parameter which I call the Pronominal Argument Subject Parameter (PASP), which determines whether verb morphology may express a pronominal subject argument or not. By this parameter, AGR is either sufficiently specified with respect to referential features, or not. If it is not, the full specification is derived from a relationship with a DP in its specifier, the overt subject, as in the overt subject languages. In the former case, there is no motivation for such a specifier, and therefore, by economy, it is blocked. This gives the AGR in prodrop languages the status of an overt subject, as proposed by Jelinek (1984), Baker (1988, 1996), Taraldsen (1992) and Fassi-Fehri (1993). So, children acquiring pro-drop languages apparently converge on the target value of AGR, as a referentially fully specified category, very early, as do children learning overt subject languages. The non-pronominal correlate of the incorporated pronominal subject in pro-drop languages is analyzed as a topic or focus constituent, which is absent from child grammars as a result of their inability to access certain aspects of pragmatic competence necessary to manipulate notions of topic-comment and focus-presupposition. Another gap noticed in early child Spanish and Catalan grammars is their inability to produce negative commands. During the period in which no overt subjects are produced, the children in question nonetheless produce negative declaratives and affirmative imperatives. One might conclude, given this repertoire of grammatical elements, that children might simply concatenate negation and affirmative imperatives to produce a negative command, which would be ungrammatical in the adult grammar. However, they do not produce these  ungrammatical utterances. I argue that this results from their grammars being constrained by the same principle of Universal Grammar which constrains the adult grammar: Relativized Minimality.

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