Child awareness of subtle probabilities in adult language use: Evidence from Spanish DO pronouns

CGS Brown Bag Series
Nov 05, 2014
01:30 PM to 02:30 PM
102 Kern

Pablo E. Requena, Penn State 

Those aspects of language that display optionality or variation are in general not entirely free or unpredictable. Actually, most language variation has been shown to be affected/constrained by either language-internal (e.g. grammatical category, gender marking) or external factors (e.g. speaker’s age, gender, social class), or both. For example, one case of variability in Spanish is represented by Direct Object pronouns called clitics. In constructions with a finite and non-finite verb (as shown in 1 below) they can go either before or after the verbal construction without any evident difference in meaning. 

(1)  a. Lo voy a comer  (Proclisis)   

‘I am going to eat it’  

b. Voy a comerlo  (Enclisis)

‘I am going to eat it’  

Such variation has been described within sociolinguistics as constrained by lexical, semantic and discourse factors. Data from adult spoken Argentine Spanish that will be presented here confirms these previous studies. Even though language acquisition studies have shown early mastery of these forms, no research has examined whether preschool children’s use of clitics is also constrained by the same factors as is the case with adult speakers. Therefore, I present data from naturalistic, imitation and elicited production tasks showing that children’s use of clitics is constrained by at least two of the three types of constraints mentioned above (namely lexical and semantic). This research points to a usage-based view of language acquisition in which children are aware of subtle patterns in the input and are able to match probabilities.

Originally from Argentina, Pablo E. Requena graduated with an undergraduate degree in Education from the Universidad Nacional de Cordoba. He holds an MA in Hispanic Linguistics from Penn State and is currently completing his final year as a PhD. student in Language Science and Spanish Linguistics at Penn State. Pablo’s research encompasses both first language and second language acquisition and his research has focused on speakers from variety of Spanish dialects, including Chile, Argentina, Mexico, Puerto Rico, and Southern Spain. With support from the College of Liberal Arts and the Center for Global Studies, Pablo has conducted research with Spanish-speaking children and adults in Argentina on how children use pronouns in variable contexts. 

This lecture is a part of the Center for Global Studies Brown Bag Series which focuses on interdisciplinary faculty and graduate research.

Return to Top