Thu 6 April – Tamirand Nnena de Lisser (Guyana)

Speaker: Tamirand Nnena de Lisser (University of Guyana)
Title: The Three Phases of Early Missing Subjects: Evidence from Creole Language Acquisition
Date: Thursday 6th April
Location: Lipsius 2.23/Zoom [online talk]
Time: 16:15-17:30

This talk will explore the null subject phenomenon in L1 acquisition of two Creole languages, Jamaican, a non-null subject language, and Morisyen, a language that allows null subjects in certain contexts. According to Bickerton (1981; 1984; 1999; 2014), the grammar of Creole languages may give an insight in the default parameter settings of the language faculty, and as such Creole-speaking children’s production should be errorless. Results from the cross-linguistic comparative analysis reveal striking similarities – Both Jamaican and Morisyen speaking children start with a system of target inconsistent missing subjects (Phase 1). This is however not related to Parameter (mis)setting or Bickerton’s Language Bioprogram Hypothesis, but rather a principle of economical structure building, accounted for by the modified version of the Truncation approach in terms of the Spell-Out mechanism (De Lisser et al., 2016). Around age three, when this system is accurately regulated by children, we note a shift to an overwhelming number of overt subjects in the children’s grammar (Phase 2). This developmental phase can arguably reflect what appears to be the default parametric option which is explored, regardless of the target being a null or non-null subject language. It is only later, based on evidence from the input, that children acquiring null subject languages fix the null subject parameter to reflect a target consistent grammar (Phase 3). The findings from the post-truncation phase of Creole language development (Phases 2 and 3) can therefore be argued to be supportive of the assumption that overt subject is the default unmarked option, and may contribute to discussion on Bickerton’s Language Bioprogram Hypothesis and parameter (mis)setting.

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