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Auteur: João COSTA

Co-Auteur(s): Maria LOBO & Fernanda PRATAS

Clitic production by Portuguese and Capeverdean children: omission in bilingualism

Abstract/Résumé: Omission of clitics is often considered a critical marker of language development. For this reason, clitic omission in language development has been studied crosslinguistically. Results on clitic production reveal that languages differ with respect to the rates at which clitics are omitted, as well as on the duration of the clitic omission stages. This paper compares clitic omission by monolingual and bilingual children acquiring European Portuguese and Capeverdean Creole. We show that omission is only found in monolingual Portuguese, and in bilingual Capeverdean. These results confirm earlier findings on the precocious sensitivity to the availability of null objects, and signal object drop as a critical distinguishing factor for differentiating bilinguals and monolinguals. The existence of null objects in the adult grammar makes it difficult to know how to analyze a child production in which a verb occurs without a complement: is it a case of clitic omission, as found for other languages, or is it a case of target null object, as found in adult European Portuguese? Costa and Lobo (2009, 2011) argue that clitic omission is an overuse of the null object option. The purpose of this paper is to compare monolingual and bilingual children acquiring Portuguese and Capeverdean in order to assess whether there is clitic omission in the latter, and whether the overuse of null objects affects bilingual children. The rationale for the comparison between these two languages is the following: both languages have object clitics (Pratas 2002), but only Portuguese has null objects. We aim at providing answers to the following questions: A. Is there clitic omission in monolingual Capeverdean creole? B. Is there crosslinguistic influence in bilingual children? C. If the answer to B is positive, what is the direction of influence (is there an earlier development of clitics in bilingual Portuguese, or, on the contrary, null objects emerge in Capeverdean?) We show that there is early sensitivity to the characteristics of the language in monolingual children. As such, Capeverdean monolinguals do not omit clitics, contrasting with bilinguals. The conclusion is that crosslinguistic influence goes in one direction only, with the overuse of null categories. A comparison with data on the acquisition of null subjects by the same populations will further confirm this conclusion.