DALiV. Development, Acquisition, and Mechanisms of Linguistic Variation (FFI2017-87699-P)

IP: Anna Gavarró (UAB)

From its inception, generative grammar has had language acquisition as its main motivation to hypothesise the existence of Universal Grammar. In this project we scrutinise some of the assumptions often entertained regarding language acquisition, genetic endowment and the argument of poverty of stimulus. We aim at incorporating ideas of Systems Development Theory into a theory of the development of language in tune with current thinking in biology regarding the role of genes, growth and environment in development – not necessarily in contradiction with recent Minimalist tenets. On the empirical side, we propose to investigate two underexplored domains: the acquisition of the pragmatics-prosody interface, and the syntax of the pre-productive stage. Regarding the first, we consider the prosodic markers of evidenciality, which relates to Theory of Mind, argued to be a late acquisition, and the acquisition of the intonation and syntax of focus, which presents wide cross-linguistic variation; the results should informs us as to whether acquisition takes different paths depending on the properties of the language acquired, or rather takes a universal path of development. Regarding pre-productive syntax, there is some evidence that children have set the parameters underlying word order by 19 months of age, even if they are not producing any two-word sequences yet. These findings witness to the perceptual character of parameter setting. We put forth a series of experiments investigating comprehension of word order (canonical and non-canonical), and taking into account variables such as presence vs. absence of morphological case, and agreement marking, at an early age (in the range of 16 to 19 months). The research team includes members in the biolinguistic and the language acquisition tradition and aims at bridging the gap between the two with the collaboration of an interdisciplinary team of former collaborators, consisting of one linguist, two psychologists and two biologists.


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