6.6.1 Root Infinitives in JC

This section is devoted to the analysis of bare root infinitival verbs in the utterances of children acquiring JC. Recall that in adult JC, bare non-stative verbs are interpreted as having a past reading. However as demonstrated in the previous section, and further shown by examples (60) – (71), children behave very differently from adults in that all bare forms do not pattern with the bare form in the target language in yielding a past reading. Children employ bare verbs also in contexts where there is an aspectual interpretation thereby providing evidence for the hypothesis that JC involves an RI stage.

60) Ø Ø chobl i maabl. (ALA 2;04)

Ø Ø trouble DEF marble

“He is troubling the marble.”

61) Ø Ø bons it. (COL 1;11)

Ø Ø bounce 3SG

“I am bouncing it.”

62) Ø Ø chuo oot i. (KEM 2;00)

Ø Ø throw out it

“I am throwing it out.”

63) Ø Ø jraiv it. (RJU 1;11)

118 Ø Ø drive 3SG

“She is driving it.”

64) Ø Ø uol mi fut. (SHU 2;03)

Ø Ø hold 1SG foot

“She is holding my foot.”

65) Ø Ø riid buk. (TYA 2;07)

Ø Ø read book

“They are reading a book.”

66) Ø Ø gi guoti. (ALA 1;10)

Ø Ø give goatie

“She is going to give goatie.”

67) Ø Ø bied im outsaid. (COL 1;11) Ø Ø bathe 3SG outside

“He is going to bathe him outside.”

68) Ø Ø jrap aaf. (KEM 2;00)

Ø Ø drop off

“They are going to fall off.”

69) Ø Ø torn aan i. (RJU 2;01)

Ø Ø turn on 3SG


“I am going to turn it on.”

70) Ø Ø bring som priti blous. (SHU 2;05) Ø Ø bring some pretty blouse

“She is going to bring some pretty blouses.”

71) Ø Ø shuo Moesha i kyat. (TYA 2;08) Ø Ø show Moesha DET cat

“I am going to show Moesha the cat.”

Also we see where RIs are produced in utterances where the subject is overtly expressed, as in (72) – (77). This is however attested for only 16% (395 of 2424 RIs utterances) of the data. So RIs are much more frequent in environments where the subject is dropped (84%), compared to environments where the subject is overtly pronounced.

72) Mi Ø fiks i bak. (ALA 2;02)

1SG Ø fix 3SG back

“I am fixing it back.”

73) Jan Ø daans. (COL 1;10)

John Ø dance

“John is dancing.”

74) Mi Ø ron gaan lef yo. (KEM 3;03)

1SG Ø run gone leave 2SG


“I am running leave you.”

75) Felisha Ø kyari mi. (RJU 2;05)

Felisha Ø carry 1SG

“Felisha is going to carry me.”

76) Yu mada Ø kom fi yu an biit yu. (SHU 2;09) 2SG mother Ø come for 2SG and beat 2SG

“Your mother is going to come for you and beat you.”

77) Mii an Aleks Ø kola oova de-so. (TYA 3;01) 1SG and Alex Ø colour over LOC

“Alex and I are going to colour over there.”

Further analysis of the data reveals that null subjects are much more frequent with RIs than with finite clauses14. As demonstrated in Table 23 below, the total proportion of null subjects in finite declarative clauses15 in JC is a mere 23.2% when compared to 88% null subjects with RIs. As detailed in the table, this is in line with findings from other languages. The comparable proportion also supports the hypothesis that child JC has RIs.

14 It is not very clear how significant the finite/nonfinite distinction is in creole languages (Mufwene 1999;

Dijkhof & Mufwene 1989). For this analysis, only infinitives are analyzed as non-finite.

15 Only non-stative declarative utterances were involved in this analysis.

121 Table 23: Subject Omission in Finite and Root Infinitival clauses16

Figure 3 and corresponding Table 24 demonstrate the production of RIs with progressive and prospective aspectual interpretations in the corpus.

16 Data for all languages except JC is from Rasetti (2000).


Figure 3: Production of RIs with aspectual interpretations















AGE (mths) Omitted Aspect Overt Aspect Total Aspect % Root infinitives

1;9.5 25 2 27 93

Table 24: Production of RIs with Aspectual Interpretations

As Pratas & Hyams (2009) pointed out for Capeverdean, two main reasons that lead us to expect an RI stage in JC are: i) it is a non-null subject language; and ii) it has no agreement morphology. Both of these factors are predictive of languages which have an RI stage (Sano


& Hyams 1994; Wexler 1994; Rizzi 1993/1994). Rizzi (1993/1994) argues that RIs are truncated structures that arise as a consequence of the option available to the child to ‘strip off’ external clausal layers. This option is also responsible for the property of null subjects in early grammars. Various researchers (such as Hamann & Plunkett 1998; Rizzi 2000; among others) shows where there is a striking correspondence between the decline of both phenomena roughly around the same period. We will examine the production of null subjects in more detail in the next chapter.

One empirical observation is that RIs seem to be prevented in wh-questions. For Dutch, Haegeman (1995a) found 16% RI among non-interrogative clauses and 2.5% among wh-interrogatives. Similarly, for French, Crisma (1992) reported 15% nonfinite verbs in declaratives and 0% in wh-questions. The current finding for JC reveals a striking asymmetry.

As demonstrated in Table 25 below, the proportion of root infinitival wh-interrogatives is much lower than that produced in declaratives. While there are 18.5% RIs among declaratives, only 2% RIs (22 of 1099 cases) was produced in wh-interrogatives17. If the proportion had been constant across clauses, we would expect to find around 203 instances of interrogative RIs.

Table 25: RIs with Finite Declaratives and Wh-Interrogatives

17 For a coherent comparison, like for declarative clauses, only non-stative interrogative utterances were included in this analysis.


These data clearly indicate that there is a structural difference between finite utterances and RIs whereby the latter are excluded from contexts requiring the projection of the CP, whether it is overtly realized or null. As revealed, of the 22 cases of interrogative RIs, 9 were produced in wh-constituent utterances for which the wh-marker was omitted compared to 13 produced in wh-questions with overt wh-elements. This is exemplified in (78) and (79) respectively.

The production of null and overt wh-questions will be discussed in the following chapter.

78) Ø dadi go? (COL 2;05)

Ø Daddy go

“Where is daddy going?”

79) We im du? (RJU 2;10)

What 3SG do

“What is he doing?”

We will now turn to a discussion of the overall development of TMA in JC.

Dans le document The acquisition of Jamaican Creole: The emergence and transformation of early syntactic systems (Page 131-139)