THE ACQUISITION OF TENSE, MODAL AND ASPECT

7.2 OBJECT / SUBJECT ASYMMETRY

In comparison to the extensive research conducted on subject drop, the phenomenon of object omission has remained less documented. Some researchers found that they almost did not exist in some languages (Hyams 1986, Hyams & Wexler 1993, Hamann 1996). Hyams (1986) shows that while subject omission is frequent (in English), object omission is not. She proposed that object omissions are more likely to be related to performance errors than to be a product of a regular grammatical process. Hyams & Wexler (1993) compared proportions of subject drop with object drop for child English and found a huge discrepancy: subjects were dropped around 50% of the time, while object drops accounted for merely 10%. Other studies on object drop in Child English reveals even lower percentages (Wang, Lillo-Martin, Best &

Levit, 1992; Bloom, 1990). Similarly, Hamann (1996) found that null objects nearly do not exist in German. Additionally, there are large differences reported in the rate of subject and object omission even for null-object languages, with subject omission still being more robust than object omission. For Chinese, Wang et al. (1992) reported 56% subject omission

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compared to 23% object omission; For Korean, Kim (2000) found 77% subject omission compared to 51% object omission; and for K’iche’, Pye (1992) found 92% and 67% subject and object omissions respectively.

The main goal of this section then is to assess the extent to which object drop is attested in early JC and to ascertain whether it is a separate phenomenon than that of subject drop.

Although JC is not usually described as a null object language, target-consistent object drop is attested in a variety of context. Given the possibility that omissions are highly context-dependent, the context in which the null elements occurred is used as the main criterion for establishing target inconsistency. To calculate the target-inconsistent null elements, all utterances for which the object and/or subject is obligatory based on the discourse are counted and assessed individually for acceptability. Note that this is the only section where imperatives are considered. They are included as an important percentage of the children’s production demonstrating target-inconsistent object omissions are found in these clauses. To distinguish imperatives from non-imperatives, again the context was the main criterion: for example imperatives are in the present tense, used for commands and with optional subject.

Moreover, native speakers’ intuitions are also employed in establishing target inconsistency among the clauses.

For the analysis below, we counted all verbal utterances in the entire corpus. We then counted all the cases where obligatory subjects and objects were dropped. The findings reveal that total target-inconsistent null objects accounted for only 2.88% of the entire data while null subjects accounted for 27.18%. As displayed in Table 7, the subject/object asymmetry is clearly evident and homogeneous in all informants, despite minor individual variation.

146 INFORMANTS TOTAL VERBAL

UTTERANCE

NON-TARGET

NULL OBJ % NULL OBJ NON-TARGET

NULL SUBJ %NULL SUBJ

ALA 5485 131 2.39% 1198 21.84%

COL 3660 92 2.51% 1038 28.36%

KEM 3896 121 3.11% 1419 36.42%

RJ 3522 101 2.87% 1011 28.71%

SHU 2613 43 1.65% 426 16.30%

TYA 999 93 9.31% 392 39.24%

TOTAL 20175 581 2.88% 5484 27.18%

Table 1: Total Target-inconsistent Omissions in Data Set

The question that arises then is why are the figures drastically lower than those reported for English? We assume this may be due to differences in the procedures for the calculation. To rectify this, thereby presenting a tighter analysis of our data with that reported for English, we conducted a comparative analysis replicating Bloom’s (1990) study. Bloom tested the prediction that subject omission is ‘selective’ in contrast to object omission by comparing children’s rates of subject omissions with object omission. He counted utterances which contained verbs that required obligatory objects in the natural productions of children acquiring English, for a set of verbs (listed in Table 2) and compared it with omitted subjects from a set of verbs which requires the subject (listed in Tables 3 and 4). Table 3 includes verbs that denotes cognitive states or involuntary acts, which he referred to as non-imperative verbs; and Table 4 includes past tense verbs, since these verbs cannot be used in an imperative form. Sentences from these lists, not containing a subject, would be true examples of target-inconsistent subject omission. He found a significant discrepancy: 55% of subjects were omitted, while only 9% of obligatory objects were.

147 Table 2: Bloom’s 1990 Obligatory object verbs list

Table 3: Bloom’s 1990 Non-imperative Verbs List

Table 4: Bloom’s 1990 Past tense verbs list

A similar analysis on the present corpus was conducted for the same period as per Bloom’s informants, i.e. informants up to 31 months of age. We selected all the verbs from our data that corresponds to Bloom’s Tables 2, 3 and 4 above, as presented in Tables 5, 6 and 7 below respectively. Note that some of the verbs were not found in the present corpus, and as such were ignored. For the null subject analysis, verbs that fell into both classes were counted as Past tense verbs. Some of the verbs in Bloom’s lists are ungrammatical in Adult English, due to overextension of the past tense morpheme. Like in Bloom’s analysis, to calculate null

Bought Drinked Ironed Miss Saved Throwed

Broke Fix Like Need Saw Took

Brought Folded Love Pulled See Want

Caught Found Loves Rode Sharpened Wants

Covered Gave Made Said Thought Washed

Care Grow Live Need

Cry Know Lives See

Fall Laugh Love Sneeze

Falls Laughs Loves Want

Forget Like Miss Wants

Ate Closed Falled Goed Pulled Sharpened Tored

Bit Cooled Fell Ironed Rode Spilled Tripped

Bought Covered Fixed Left Said Stepped Turned

Broke Cried Folded Lost Sat Stopped Washed

Brought Drinked Forgot Made Saved Thought Went

Came Dropped Found Melted Saw Throwed Wrote

Caught Dropt Gave Pee-peed Sent Took

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elements, imperatives, questions, statement with a negative element, statements where the verb is part of an embedded clause, and repetitions were not included. To calculate null subjects and objects we examined verbs that require an obligatory subject or object based on the discourse. The same criteria for determining target inconsistency in JC as already outlined were employed. The findings reveal a similarly striking discrepancy: null subjects accounted for 50.78% of the selected data set for the verbs listed in Tables 6 and 7, while null objects accounted for only 6.53% of the verbs in Table 5.

Table 5: Obligatory Objects Verb List

149 Table 6: Nonimperative Verb List

Verbs # of Utterances Null Subjects

laaf 'laugh/s' 1 0

laik 'like' 14 7

liv 'live/s' 5 1

lov 'love/s' 13 2

niid 'need' 1 0

nuo 'know' 4 4

waa/hn 'want/s' 228 120

TOTAL 266 134

50.38%

% null subject

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As the fundamental results of the asymmetry between object drop and subject drop remains, the discrepancy between the figures of two analyses is plausibly due to differences in calculation procedures. As seen in the latter, the data covered only up to 31 months of age, the period where null subjects are still robustly attested. On the other hand, the previous analysis examined the subject/object asymmetry throughout the entire corpus, grouping togething the periods where null subjects are robust with periods when they are sparsely attested.

Additionally, restricting the verbs for inclusion in the analyses will yield higher numbers of null objects and subjects as compared to an analysis where verb type and utterance type was not controlled.

Typical examples of null objects in the corpus included the following:

1) Ø fiks Ø. (ALA 1;11)

Ø fix Ø “(I am) fixing (it).”

2) Momi mi dalli waahn Ø. (ALA, 2;02)

Mommy my doll want Ø

“Mommy, my doll wants (breast).

3) Momi bied Ø. (COL 1;11)

mommy bathe Ø

“Mommy bathed (me).”

4) A kyahn pin Ø. (COL 2,05)

1SG cannot spin Ø

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“I cannot spin (it).”

5) Momi biit Ø. (SHU 2;02)

mommy beat Ø

“Mommy beats (him).”

6) Mi waahn put iin Ø. (SHU 2,02)

1SG want put in Ø

“I want to put (it) in.”

7) Ø waa tek out Ø. (RJU 2;07)

Ø want take out Ø

“(I) want to take (it) out.”

8) Pul out Ø! (RJU 1;11)

Pull out Ø

“Pull (it) out!”

9) A mii av Ø. (KEM 2;10)

FOC 1SG have Ø

“I am the one who have (it).”

10) Mi a_go raid mi Ø. (KEM 2;09)

1SG PROS ride my Ø

“I am going to ride my (bike).”

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11) Ø put aan Ø. (TYA 2;08)

Ø put on Ø

“(I) am going to put (it) on.”

12) Im naa kyaar Ø. (TYA 2;07)

3SG NEG~PROG carry Ø

“She is not taking (anything).”

The above examination provides evidence in favor of the hypothesis that the phenomenon of subject drop is quite separate and apart from that of object drop, and as such requires a separate analysis. We will now turn to the discussion of the null subject phenomenon.

Dans le document The acquisition of Jamaican Creole: The emergence and transformation of early syntactic systems (Page 158-167)