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Auteur: Chiara MELLONI

Co-Auteur(s): Jacopo TORREGROSSA

Antisymmetry In Early Two-Word Utterances

Abstract/Résumé: Introduction. This research targets noun-noun combinations (NNC) produced by children in the two-word stage of language acquisition. Contra previous studies arguing for a pragmatic/semantic analysis of these constructions, we will show that Italian children employ two different strategies for merging symmetric NPs and that both strategies conform to antisymmetric requirements on syntactic structures, see [1]. Methods. We monitored the production of 16 Italian children from 1;7 to 2;00 (Calambrone, D’Odorico, Klammler, Roma and Tonelli corpora, CHILDES). After isolating 68 NNCs, we performed a three-steps analysis: i) conceptual/semantic: each NNC has been labeled on the basis of which semantic relation links the two nouns; ii) syntactic: for each NNC it has been indicated whether it is an instance of a head+modifier or modifier+head schema; iii) phonological: it has been verified if a pause occurs between the two nouns and which word carries the main stress. Results. The majority of NNCs express semantic relations of possession but also location and classification relations are attested. There is an equal number of right-headed (H2) and left-headed (H1) NNCs. The phonological analysis shows that only H1 NNCs are usually uttered with a pause between the two words. Thus, there is no pause occurring between the two nouns whenever they instantiate the H2 schema. Furthermore, in the H2 schema, the analysis of the acoustic correlates of stress indicates that N1 carries the main stress, while secondary stress is assigned to N2. Hence, there is a strong correlation between phonological pattern and syntactic word order. Analysis. The analysis of the data shows that NNCs are built upon two schemas that differ both phonologically and syntactically. We hypothesize that H2 structures are an instance of adjunction, a default strategy adopted by the child to avoid a symmetrical configuration when merging two bare (and otherwise symmetrical) NPs. In the case of H1 structures, the presence of a pause between the two NPs suggests the presence of an empty category (something like a P head) selecting N2 as its complement and projecting N1 in its specifier. Such basic X-bar schema would instantiate the cognitively salient Figure-Ground asymmetry, proposed in [2] and implemented by [3] in the study of PPs. References 1. KAYNE R., 1994, The Antisymmetry of Syntax, MIT Press; Klein W./C. Perdue, 1992, Utterance Structure. Developing Grammar Again, Benjamins, Amsterdam. 2. SVENONIUS, P., 2007, Adpositions, particles, and the arguments they introduce, In T. Bhattacharya/E. Reuland/KV Subbarao, eds., Argument Structure, Amsterdam: John Benjamins; 3. TALMY, L., 2000, Toward a Cognitive Semantics: Concept Structuring Systems, vol. I. MIT Press, Cambridge, Ma.