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Auteur: Shruti SHRUTI SIRCAR

Null and Overt Subjects in the Speech of Bengali children

Abstract/Résumé: It is a well-known fact that children drop subjects from their early sentences. The phenomenon has been well-documented in many languages like English and French (Bloom, 199; Radford, 1990; Rizzi, 2000) but has rarely been investigated in null subject languages like Bengali. Children learning to speak a non-null subject language are expected drop the sentential subject less than children learning to speak a null-subject language. Bengali is a null subject language, and allows both subject and the object arguments to be dropped in a discourse context. Also, in Bengali, unaccusatives may appear in both SV and VS orders. In this paper I examine children’s omission of subject as function of the syntactic frame of the verb: transitive, unaccusative and unergative verbs and the acquisition of object-to-subject movement. In particular, I analyze the realization and the distribution of subjects with different classes of verbs (transitive, unergative and unaccusative verbs) and show that children use subjects in different ways depending on the verb class. The study is based on the analysis of speech corpora of one Bengali child from the age of 18 months (mean MLU < 2.0) to 36 months (mean MLU > 4.0). I examined the use of omission of subject in the early period and the occurrence of subjects in preverbal and postverbal positions in the later period as function of the syntactic frame of transitive, unaccusative and unergative verbs. The child at the two words stage was found to produce more overt subjects with unaccusatives than with other verb classes. With unaccusative verbs, the subjects tend to occur in preverbally for [+animate] NPs and postverbally for [-animate] NPs. With transitive and unergative verbs the subjects tend to be placed consistently in preverbal position. The child’s production of overt subjects seems to be influenced by an ergative pattern in that she treats subjects of unaccusatives differently from subjects of unergatives and transitives. These findings have two consequences. On the one hand, they show that children distinguish these different classes of verbs and are aware of their different argument structure; on the other, I argue, they shed light into the debate concerning the acquisition of object-subject movement. References Bloom, P. (1990). Subjectlesss sentences in child language. Linguistic Inquiry, 21(4),491-504. Radford, A. (1990). The syntax of nominal arguments in early child English. Language Acquisition, 1, 195-223. Rizzi, L. (2000). Remarks on early null subjects. In M.A. Friedemann & L. Rizzi (eds.) The acquisition of syntax (pp. 269-292). London: Longman.