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Detail of contribution

Auteur: Anna-Maria DI SCIULLO

Co-Auteur(s): Marco NICOLIS, Stanca SOMESFALEAN

Evo-devo language universals

Abstract/Résumé: Evolutionary developmental universals emerge in the historical development of languages. One such principle is the gradual elimination of the oscillation of a dependent with respect to its head (Di Sciullo 2011, 2012, 2013, Di Sciullo and Nicolis 2012, Di Sciullo and Somesfalean 2012). We provide further arguments for such symmetry breaking universals and we raise the question whether the growth of language in the individual (ontogeny) recapitulates the historical development of languages (phylogeny). We focus on the relative position of P and its pronominal complement. While cases of fluctuating asymmetry (oscillation) in the position of P heads with respect to their complement are attested in Old English (with most Ps) and in Old Italian (commitative P only), no syntactic oscillation is found in Modern English and Italian. Why would there be a bias favoring prepositions instead of postpositions in the languages under consideration? Why is there no trace of syntactic oscillation in English and Italian? And why are there no errors in the relevant contexts in CHILDES database? The oscillation between pre- and post- nominal positions wrt a functional head may follow from the availability of both a valued and an unvalued [D] feature for the functional heads F and P dominating D. Only the [uD] feature of F is checked in the case of pre-positions, whereas the [uD] feature of P would also be checked in the case of post-positions. According to the Unique Checking Constraint (UCC) (Wexler 1998), the genetic system development has the property that more than one checking is dispreferred at young ages. In the clausal domain, AGReement and Tense cannot be both checked, via the UCC, and thus one is eliminated giving rise to the Optional Infinitive stage. Similarly, in the nominal domain, postpositional structures would be more complex, and thus would be dispreferred by the genetic system. Development is at the core of both biology and language viewed as a biological phenomenon. In this perspective, the principles of language growth are based on genetic endowment, in addition to the existence of learning processes (Chomsky 1968, 2005, 2011, Lenneberg 1967). The principles of language growth are not learned on the basis of quantitative data a child is exposed to in a given span of time. If these principles were genetically determined, it would be unlikely that language ontogeny would recapitulate language phylogeny. Based on our targeted analysis, we find no evidence supporting the recapitulation theory, whereas we find reasons to relate principles of language growth to Evolutionary developmental universals.