Fillers as Functional Categories: Evidence from German-English Bilingual Acquisition
Alyona Belikova, Tanja Kupisch, Öner Özçelik, and Emily Sadlier-Brown
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During L1-acquisition, some children go through a stage in which they produce monosyllabic segments, typically referred to as "fillers" (Peters 2001, inter alia). A major debate in the study of fillers is whether they are used for primarily prosodic or primarily morpho-syntactic reasons. The paper addresses this debate by examining previously unanalyzed (spontaneous) data from a bilingual German-English child, Dora. Following previous research (Bottari et al. 1993/94, Lleó 2001, Pepinsky et al. 2001, Tremblay 2005, among others), it is argued that the fillers in this corpus represent functional categories (FC). This is done by first ruling out alternative explanations, and then focusing on fillers in obligatory copula and subject (pronoun) positions. The analysis yields the following findings: (i) a rough negative correlation between the rates of fillers and the FCs they presumably replace, and (ii) more natural developmental curves if fillers in positions of missing FCs are viewed as FC realization rather than FC omission. It is proposed that fillers are a resource that first language learners can use when the acquisition of language-specific functional material is particularly challenging. As bilingual L1-acquisition is arguably more challenging than monolingual L1-acquisition, it can result in quantitative differences in filler use between monolinguals, where fillers are rarely observed in the acquisition of Germanic languages, and bilinguals, as a large amount of fillers are found in both of Dora's languages.
Proceedings of the 3rd Conference on Generative Approaches to Language Acquisition North America (GALANA 2008)
edited by Jean Crawford, Koichi Otaki, and Masahiko Takahashi
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