In examining combinations of three or more words (represented by the MLU ranging from 2.5 – 3.49 and beyond), we note that not only are there increased combinations of various lexical


words but that elements belonging to functional groups are attested with more frequency.

Zooming in on the production of determiners we see a striking increase in their usage, moving from a mere 120 utterances in the two-word stage (MLU 1.5 – 2.49) to over 1100 utterances as outlined in Table 10. This development provides evidence of the overt projection of the basic noun phrases into functional determiner phrases. Closer analysis of the determiners produced in the data reveals that one essential property of the determiner system at this stage is the robust use of definite articles in comparison with indefinite articles10. Additionally children seem to show awareness of target-consistent distributional properties associated with determiners; determiners were pre-nominal modifiers of nouns in both subject and object position, but at no point were there overgeneralizations with a proper noun or with a pronominal element.

MLU (words) Total Determiners Definite Determiners Indefinite determiners

< 1.49 4 3 1

1.5 – 2.49 120 100 20

2.5 – 3.49 1176 1041 135

3.5 – 4.49 1061 820 241

4.5 > 2188 1753 435

Table 10: Distribution of Determiners

Typical examples of initial definite determiners in the corpus are presented in 30 – 35 and indefinite determiners in 36 - 41.

30) Di liedi gaan dong. (ALA 2,02)

DEF lady gone down

“The lady went down (the road).”

10 In line with Stewart (2006) indefinite determiners were analyzed as quantifiers.


31) Mi a raid i chok. (COL, 2;00)

1SG PROG ride DEF truck “I am riding the truck.”

32) Ø prie i grong. (KEM 2;05)

Ø spray DEF ground

“He sprayed the field.”

33) Eskyuuz mi lak i duor. (RJU 2;01)

excuse 1SG lock DEF door

“Excuse, I am going to lock the door.”

34) Mi a jraa i waata. (SHU 2;02) 1SG PROG draw DEF water

“I am drawing the water.”

35) Di jres in de. (TYA 2;09)

DEF dress in there

“The dress is in there.”

36) Wan big chok a kom. (ALA 2;03)

INDEF big truck PROG come

“A big truck is coming.”

37) Mi iit a papaa. (COL 2;02)

71 1SG eat INDEF papaya

“I am going to eat a papaya.”

38) Ø waa som juus. (KEM 2;05)

Ø want INDEF juice

“I want some juice.”

39) Wan big kou in de. (RJU 2;03)

INDEF big cow in there

“A big cow is in there.”

40) Mi aa jraa wan cheri chrii. (SHU 2;02) 1SG PROS draw INDEF cherry tree

“I am going to draw a cherry tree.”

41) Mi a luk fi wan mongki. (TYA 2;10) 1SG PROG look for INDEF monkey

“I am looking for a monkey.”

What is suggested here is that one of the defining characteristics of children’s speech during the initial multiword stage of their development is the acquisition of the grammatical category of determiners. The children demonstrated the move from a predominantly lexical stage to a system which constitutes overt functional projections in line with the target system. This functional development may be also illustrated with the development of the Inflectional system as presented in Table 11.

72 MLU (words) Total

Inflection Aspect Modal Past Tense Infinitive

< 1.49 3 2 0 0 1

1.5 – 2.49 106 100 3 0 3

2.5 – 3.49 1144 1019 96 5 24

3.5 – 4.49 1815 1439 303 23 50

4.5 > 3667 2893 548 43 183

Table 11: Distribution of Inflection

Like for determiners, we note a striking increase in the use of inflections moving from 106 utterances in the two-word stage to over 1100 utterances when initial multi-word utterances begin. The data suggest that children have moved from a system comprised of a bare VP and has now projected up to the IP level. The most robust inflectional category present in the speech of the children is the aspectual system. The development of tense mood and aspect will be the subject of the following chapter and as such we will not venture into further details here. What we can see however is the gradual development of the clausal structure from a mainly lexical representation to a functional system, where inflection is overtly marked in keeping with the target grammar. The robust production of inflection during this period can be interpreted as a strong indication that IP is largely available as soon as the earliest multiword combination begins. The development of functional categories is therefore tied to a relatively early stage of development.

With regards to the production of overt complementizers, the data does not lend itself to a comparative analysis of the stage of productive use. We can see however that structures requiring the overt projection of the CP, such as wh-questions, are also very productive at the stage where the first multi-word utterances begins, i.e. MLU 2.5 – 3.49 (recall Figure 1 and Table 2). Wh-questions will be examined in more details in Chapters 7 and 8.


In this chapter clausal structure development and the acquisition of phrases were discussed.

The results so far give initial indications of how the acquisition of syntactic structures of JC takes place. In examining the developmental path of syntax in our corpus of children, there was individual variation in the ages and as such a categorization by word-based MLU enabled a comparative analysis. Based on the data presented, we see that declaratives are the most robust utterance type and nominals are most frequently produced compared to other word classes, in particular during the single word stage. It was proposed however that during the single word stage children do not have syntactic properties (Radford 1990), hence syntactic development can only be effectively analyzed once productive combination of words into larger structural units begins.

Looking at the very first two word combinations, certain parallels are evident in the systems of early syntactic development. First we note the production of mainly bare verbs, unmarked for temporal specificity and mainly bare nouns, unmarked with respect to nominal specificity.

Thus, parallel to the verbal utterances lacking an overt IP projection, there are nominal utterances lacking an overt DP projection. This stage however is the earliest characterization of the language where syntactic developments are initially attested and does not last very long (but is nonetheless subject to individual variation). We will argue that during this initial stage, there is the optionality of an overt spell-out of the functional clausal layers, resulting in the apparent difference between early systems and the target grammar. We will adopt the Truncation approach of Rizzi (1993/1994) (in line with the modifications of the spell-out mechanism as detailed in Chapter 7) in order to account for this stage in the grammatical development of JC. We therefore propose that all the structure is available however children


have the option of not spelling out the external layers. This is in contrast to the position of Radford (1990) and others, who have proposed that early grammars entirely lack functional projections. Importantly at this initial stage of development, children demonstrate knowledge of the word order categories and produce the correct SVO order as attested in the target language.

As the earliest multiword utterances begin, we see the parallel development of determiners and verbal inflections such as TMA markers. This observation that determiners and inflections are significantly attested is interpreted as evidence for the existence of a very early functional stage. Additionally, we note the target-like distribution of the markers at the initial moment in which they are used. The general quantitative expansion of the various items within the grammatical categories points to a system of syntactic acquisition that is gradual, rather than reflecting immediate categorical introduction and/or eradication of the previous grammatical system. Note that both lexical and functional categories were present from the single word stage. Additionally, within the functional domain, from the single word state, there were both overt determiners and inflections in addition to wh-structures requiring the overt projection of the CP. The gradual increase in words/morphemes in contrast to functional categories shows that all the functional heads were present from the onset but mature overtime; thus pointing in favor of the full competence approach of development.

5.6.1 Summary

For the present chapter, based on the step by step descriptive view of the development patterns of early clauses in JC, we see that initial utterances appear to be a systematic reduction of adult speech characterized mainly by the omission of overt functional items,


attributed to the option of Truncation afforded by children. Initial two-word combinations are mainly lexical in nature, respecting the distributional rules of the target system. As multi-word utterances begin and phrase structures become more complicated, the option to truncate gradually disappears and functional categories are more evident, demonstrating a system generally in line with the target grammar. The developmental stages and the changes in acquisition appear to be gradual changes in contrast to immediate categorical eradication of the previous grammatical system. These facts are in line with a full competence approach to grammar where there is the existence of an early functional stage.


Dans le document The acquisition of Jamaican Creole: The emergence and transformation of early syntactic systems (Page 82-90)