General programme, activity sheet

Thursday 18 September, 2014 11:00 to 11:30 Oral presentation
The ambiguous status of Spanish se: Evidence from child language
Authors: Sergio Baauw & Ilse Meerker


The Spanish reflexive se has been claimed to be a reflexive-marking morpheme, unlike Dutch zich, which is often taken to be a pronominal element (Reinhart & Reuland 1993; Reuland 2001; Reinhart & Siloni 2005). In this talk we provide some evidence from child language in support of an alternative view, which claims that Spanish se is a pronominal element in some syntactic contexts, in particular ECM contexts, and a reflexive-marker in others (Baauw 2000). We tested 23 5-year-old Spanish speaking children with a picture verification task on sentences such as (1) and (2), in which the subject DP contains two potential antecedents (following earlier experiments on Dutch zich by Avrutin & Coopmans 1999). (1) La mamá de la chica se lava [simple transitive] the mother of the girl SE washes (2) La abuela de la chica se ve bailar [ECM] the grandmother of the girl SE sees dance Children showed 69% targetlike performance on sentences like (1), rejecting the interpretation in which the mother is washing the girl. The non-targetlike reading, in which the grandmother sees the girl dance, is rejected only 39% of the time in (2). This difference was statistically significant (p = 0,004). These results provide evidence for the claim that se in ECM sentences such as (2) is a pronominal element similar to Dutch zich, which establishes an A-Chain with a local DP (Reuland 2001). Like Dutch children (Avrutin & Coopmans 1999), Spanish children often fail to establish this chain (Avrutin 2004). In simple transitive sentences, such as (1), on the other hand, se should be analyzed as a reflexive-marking morpheme. Since no chain is formed, children perform more targetlike. Finally, we will provide an explanation for children's less perfect performance on (1) than on simple transitive sentences with a non-complex subject, such as La mamá se lava 'The mother SE washes'.
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Paper session A2
Place: Main Room

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