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Testing Syntactic and Pragmatic Accounts of Clitic Omission
Anna Gavarró and Marta Mosella
25-35 (complete paper or proceedings contents)


Recently the claim has been made that a pragmatic account of the omission of arguments in early language acquisition is possible. While it is undisputed that the option of a null subject in the null subject languages is indeed regulated by pragmatic factors/information packaging, the occurrence of obligatory objects may not be. In this paper the results of an elicitation experiment of indirect object clitics in child Catalan are presented and compared to former results on object clitic omission. The experiment replicates one by Babyonyshev and Marin (2006) on Romanian and was carried out with 40 children and 10 adult controls. Under a pragmatic account (such as that of Serratrice et al. 2004, a.o.) clitic omission would be expected since the clitic has low informative status and its content is retrievable from context. Yet the results indicate low levels of omission of indirect object clitics after age 2, and are significantly different from the rates of omission of direct object clitics in Catalan (from Wexler et al. 2004) for ages 2 and 3. As an alternative to the pragmatic account, an analysis in terms of the syntax of the clitics involved is put forward. Object clitic omission is attributed to double checking of an uninterpretable feature, following Wexler's (1998) Unique Checking Constraint. To the extent that indirect objects are not involved in the checking of more than one uninterpretable feature in Catalan, they are expected to be produced in an adult-like fashion even before the UCC dies out. Pragmatic factors are argued to be dispensable to account for production/omission of these clitics in child grammar.

Published in

Proceedings of the 3rd Conference on Generative Approaches to Language Acquisition North America (GALANA 2008)
edited by Jean Crawford, Koichi Otaki, and Masahiko Takahashi
Table of contents
Printed edition: $320.00