General programme, activity sheet

Thursday 18 September, 2014 14:30 to 15:00 Oral presentation
Production of subject and object who-questions by school-aged Italian-speaking children
Authors: Anna Cardinaletti, Giorgia Del Puppo, Margherita Pivi


Young Italian-speaking children show a subject-object asymmetry for wh V DP who-questions in elicited production (Guasti et al. 2012), whereby object who-questions containing a plural verb agreeing with a postverbal plural subject DP (1) are preferably realized with a left-dislocated subject or with a null subject, while subject questions containing a singular verb (2) are produced without difficulty. We carried out a similar elicited production experiment with older Italian-speaking children (6-10 year olds), forcing them to produce potentially ambiguous who V DP questions (3), i.e. questions where a singular verb agrees either with the wh-element (subject-extracted question) or with a singular postverbal DP (object question). Results show that the quantity of target-like subject questions significantly exceeds that of object questions (on average, across age-groups: 52% vs. 36.5%; cleft wh-questions with postverbal subject: 37% vs. 17%). School-aged children still produce NP-topicalizations of the subject (21.5%) and, although less frequently than younger children, drop the lexical subject (7.5%). Moreover, children often start their object questions with the wh-element who, but then rephrase the sentences by left-dislocating the subject constituent. Interestingly, children also produce object cleft questions with preverbal subjects (4), a type of structure hardly ever used in tasks eliciting contrastive cleft sentences in Italian (Del Puppo, Pivi, Cardinaletti 2013). With respect to adults, children produce less target-like object questions (36.5% vs. 86%). The asymmetry between who-subject and who-object questions cannot be explained in terms of intervention caused by lexical NP restriction (Friedmann et al. 2009). An explanation based on Franck et al. (2006) attraction framework, as proposed by Guasti et al. (2012), is more suited: children would preferably look for SV agreement rather than VS agreement, in order to avoid attraction errors during computation in production. Such effect may be enhanced when potentially ambiguous sentences are elicited, as in our experiment. 1) Chi inseguono gli elefanti? (Object question) From Guasti et al. (2012) Who chase-3Pl the elephants “Who are the elephants chasing?” 2) Chi insegue gli elefanti? (Subject question) Who chase-3Sg the elephants “Who is chasing the elephants?” 3) Chi lava il bambino? (Potentially ambiguous question; our task) Who wash-3Sg the child? “Who is washing the child?” / “Who is the child washing?” 4) Chi è che il bambino lava? (Cleft subject question) Who is that the child wash-3Sg “Who is it that the child is washing?” References Del Puppo G., Pivi M., Cardinaletti A. (2013), “Elicited production of cleft sentences in 6-10 year-old Italian-speaking children with a comparison of related syntactic structures”, presented at GALA, Oldenburg. Franck J., Lassi G., Frauenfelder U. H., Rizzi L. (2006), “Agreement and movement: A syntactic analysis of attraction”, Cognition 101, pp.173-216. Friedmann N., Belletti A., Rizzi L. (2009), “Relativized relatives: Types of intervention in the acquisition of A-bar dependencies”, Lingua 119, pp. 67-88. Guasti M. T., Branchini C., Arosio F. (2012), “Interference in the production of Italian subject and object wh-questions”, Applied Psycholinguistics 33, pp. 185-223. Spyridoula V., Pantoula A. (2013), “Subject/object asymmetries in the production of wh-questions in Greek SLI: A Relativized Minimality approach”, poster presented at GALA, Oldenburg.
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