[LUSTIGMAN] The emergence of subject-predicate combinations in early child Hebrew

The emergence of subject-predicate combinations in early child Hebrew

Lyle Lustigman

(reviewers: Ruth Berman, Isabelle Roy)

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Abstract: The present study examines the morpho-syntactic environments that are favored by Hebrew- acquiring children for their emergent subject-predicate combinations, in order to look into the relations between predicate morphology (marking of verbs and predicative adjectives for number and gender) and the emergence of overt subjects in children’s speech. By examining children’s early uses of predicative utterances in natural adult-child conversations, this study aims to shed new light on the grammatical and typological constraints that shape the acquisition of early clause structure. Analyses of longitudinal corpora of three Hebrew-acquiring children (age range: 1;3 to 2;6) indicate that lexical verbs are the earliest types of predicates to emerge in the children’s speech, but verb-less constructions (copular, possessive, and existential clauses) constitute the environments for the earliest
subject-predicate combinations. That is, although Hebrew-acquiring children begin to produce verbs early on, they do not produce subjects in agreement-requiring environments for several months, and show preference for subject use in existential, possessive, and locative copular constructions. These findings for children’s selectivity in subject-predicate environments are indicative of their early sensitivity to target language typological constraints, the piecemeal nature of grammatical development, and the syntax-morphology interplay during transitional phases in language acquisition.

Lustigman, Lyle. 2022. “The emergence of subject-predicate combinations in early child Hebrew”. Radical: A Journal of Phonology, 4, 421-449.