The Crosslinguistic Study of Language Acquisition - Vol. 3

By Dan Isaac Slobin | Go to book overview

languages. Moreover, as Jacaltec shows (see Table 1.3), there can be remarkable diversity among constructions within a single language. The GB approach is clearly designed for languages in which there is a single, consistent system of grammatical relations, as in English, and accordingly the acquisition theory based on it is also best suited for such languages.

Semantic bootstrapping models likewise presume a single, consistent system of grammatical relations in a language; children are assumed to break into the system by means of semantics, e.g. the association of agent with subject. Pinker's ( 1987, 1989) discussion of ergative languages seems to presuppose crucially the mirror image view of syntactically ergative languages: Children learn to associate patient rather than agent with a subject notion that applies consistently throughout the grammar. This approach, too, runs afoul of the split nature of ergative systems. There is no single, general system of grammatical relations for the child to bootstrap into; rather, the child must learn restrictions on individual constructions. Some work accusatively, some work ergatively, and some work on a different basis (see Table 1.3). Minimally, bootstrapping must be relativized to individual constructions or sets of constructions, and this reduces the power of the mechanism. Although this approach does not run into the problem raised by the denial of the validity of the notion of grammatical construction as in the parameters conception, its reliance on a particular view of grammatical relations is problematic.16

Because a child can learn any human language, it is vital that acquisition theories take as wide a range of grammatical systems as possible into account; otherwise, they assume an inaccurate conception of the task facing the child learning language. Ergative languages, be they morphologically ergative or syntactically ergative or both, provide phenomena which should be of equal concern to acquisition theorists as those of more familiar languages.


REFERENCES

Aronson, H. ( 1982). Georgian: A reading grammar. Columbus, OH: Slavica.

Bhat, D. H. S. ( 1988). Grammatical relations in Indian languages. Mysore: Central Institute of Indian Languages.

Chomsky, N. ( 1988). Some notes on economy of derivation. Unpublished ms., Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

Craig, C. ( 1977). The structure of Jacaltec. Austin: University of Texas Press.

Dixon, R. M. W. ( 1972). The Dyirbal language of North Queensland. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Dixon, R. M. W. ( 1979). "Ergativity". Language, 55, 59-138.

Foley, W. A., & Van R. D., Valin, Jr. ( 1985). "Information packaging in the clause". In T. Shopen

____________________
16
For a very different approach to the acquisition of grammatical relations which avoids these difficulties, see Rispoli ( 1991).

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The Crosslinguistic Study of Language Acquisition - Vol. 3
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Title Page iii
  • Contents v
  • Format and Abbreviations for Glosses ix
  • Introduction 1
  • Acknowledgments 12
  • Acknowledgments 13
  • 1 - An Overview of Ergative Phenomena and Their Implications for Language Acquisition 15
  • References 36
  • 2 - Acquisition of Georgian 39
  • Acknowledgments 107
  • Acknowledgments 107
  • 3 - The Acquisition of West Greenlandic 111
  • 4 - The Acquisition of K'Iche' Maya 221
  • Introduction 222
  • 5 - The Acquisition of Warlpiri 309
  • References 368
  • 6 - The Acquisition of Mandarin 373
  • References 445
  • 7 - The Acquisition of Scandinavian Languages 457
  • References 551
  • 8 - The Acquisition of Sesotho 557
  • References 633
  • Subject Index 639
  • Author Index 649
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