General programme, activity sheet

Friday 19 September, 2014 11:00 to 11:30 Oral presentation
Microparametric variation and the acquisition of quantitative de in French
Authors: Bernadette Plunkett Chair, Graduate School Board Dept of Language and Linguistic Science University of York Heslington YO10 5DD


Syntacticians have recently become more interested in explaining micro-parametric variation. In relation to the acquisition of such variation Westergaard(2009) proposes a cue-based system but the variation she describes is largely one in which a single grammatical feature varies in different clause types. This paper examines a type of variation which can not easily be characterised in this way. A micro-cue system is examined and shown to be inadequate to explain the variation found. Alternatives will be discussed before a proposal for a revision appealing to a greater depth of structural information than micro-cues.
The realisation of quantitative de in spoken French is subject to variation across clause-types as shown in (1-3).
1) Il y a des/*de bananes he there have some/de bananas ‘There are bananas’
2) Il n’y a pas *des/de bananes he neg there have not some/debananas ‘There are no bananas’ 3) Ce ne sont pas des/*de bananes it neg are not some/de bananas ‘These aren’t bananas’
An examination of several French corpora on Childes (MacWhinney,2000) shows that the majority of adult French speakers realise the contrast in (1/2) in negative contexts, and quantified contexts, such as (4) but rarely realise it following prenominal adjectives, as prescriptive grammars would require (5).
4) maisil y a plein de sable dans le seau . but he there has full de sand in the bucket ‘But there’s loads of sand in the bucket’ MONA005:48
5) a. i(l) mange des petites fleurs ? he eats of the/some little flowers ‘Is he eating some (of the) little flowers?’ PARA016:307
b. ahil a de belles petites mains ,, hein , bébé . ah he has de beautiful little hands huh baby ‘Baby’s got beautiful little hands, huh?’ LIEA032:429
Prior to about age 3 yrs children make a small number of errors but thereafter typically adopt one form categorically for each structure. However, in one corpus, collected in the northern part of Belgium, (Plunkett, 2002) quantitative de is in variation with partitivede and the indefinite de/des, in all of these contexts. Leah, the target child, also uses de variably, though not at the same rates as those found in the adult input.
Use of standard de in (non-copular) negatives Use of non-standard des/ du etc (in non-copular) negatives Use of standard de in amount contexts Use of non-standard des/ du etcin amount contexts Leah 2;8.22--4;3.21 57% 43% 27% 73% Adults 58% 42% 65% 35% Table One De variation in negative and amount contexts
Even for negatives, this classification is too simple however.
Use of standard de in (non-copular) pas negatives Use of non-standard des/ du etc (in non-copular) pas negatives Use of standard de in (non-copular) plus negatives Use of non-standard des/ du etc (in non-copular) plus negatives Leah 2;8.22-2;11.18 38% 62% n/a n/a Leah 3;0.05-4;3.21 37% 63% 70% 30% Adults 55% 45% 69% 31% Table TwoDe variation in negative pas and plus contexts
Use of standard de following peu Use of non-standard des/ du etcfollowing peu Use of standard de following beaucoup Use of non-standard des/ du etcfollowing beaucoup Leah 2;8.22-2;11.18 0% 100% 100% 0% Leah 3;0.05-4;3.21 0% 100% 0% 100% Adults 37% 63% 71% 29% Table three: De variation following peu and beaucoup Although the number of ‘amount’ contexts in the child data is relatively small, this may be indicative of language change in progress. More fine-grained analysis of the data will investigate whether any cues reflect the type of NP following the amount word. The adults use peude 47%in contexts like (6) with mass nouns but use beaucoup des only 9% in cases like (7).
6) *Lea: il y a encore un peu du soleil là+derrière . 4;0.8 he there has again a little of sun there behind ‘There’s still a bit of sun behind there ‘ LIEA030:169 7) *Lea: j(e) ai beaucoup [$C: de] caméras . I have a lot some cameras ‘I have a lot of cameras’
References
MacWhinney, Brian (2000) The CHILDES Project: Tools for Analyzing Talk, (3rd edition) Hillsdale, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates. Plunkett, B. (2002) Null Subjects in child French interrogatives: a view from the York Corpus, in Pusch, C. D. / Raible, W. (eds.): Romance Corpus Linguistics: Corpora and Spoken LanguageTübingen: Narr, 441-452. Westergaard, Marit. 2009. The Acquisition of Word Order: Micro-cues, Information Structure and Economy. Amsterdam: John Benjamins.
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