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Case, inflection and subject licensing in child Catalan and Spanish



The development of specified tense and number morphology in child Catalan and Spanish is found to correlate with the onset of overt subject use. The data come from four monolingual child Catalan-speakers (from the Serrà & Solé corpus) and one monolingual child Spanish-speaker (from the Linaza corpus) who were studied longitudinally from 1:0 to 3; 6, approximately. The simultaneous emergence of tense and number morphology on one hand and overt subjects on the other in the children's speech is taken as evidence that a particular aspect of Universal Grammar, Case Theory, determines the possible co-occurrences of verbal inflections and subject types in developing grammatical systems. Parallels in verbal inflectional development are found in other child languages, while such parallels are not found in regard to subject use. Possible modifications to Case Theory, which would allow a unified account of the cross-linguistic developmental patterns of subject use, are considered. The possibility of explaining the early absence of overt subjects in these null subject languages as the result of an early sentence processing deficit is explored and rejected. The children's knowledge of whether their language is a null subject or overt subject language even before acquiring adult-like verbal inflection is taken as further evidence for what has been called ‘early convergence’ on parameter settings.


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Address for correspondence: Psycholinguistics Laboratory, Linguistics Department – UCLA, 405 S. Hilgard Ave., Los Angeles, CA 90095-1543, USA. e-mail:


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I would like to acknowledge the tireless help and persistence of Nina Hyams, Joe Allen and Teun Hoekstra in preparing this paper as well as crucial help in refining the ideas and understanding the data from Harald Clahsen, Astrid Ferdinand, Antoinette Hawayek, Claudia Parodi, Rochel Gelman, Manuel Español, Luis Silva, Javier Gutiérrez, Gemma Rigau, Anoop Mahajan, Susan Curtiss, Edward Stabler, Tim Stowell, Ruth Berman, Ana Teresa Pérez-Leroux, Carson Schütze, Vicenç Torrens, Roger Andersen, Patricia Greenfield, Miquel Serrà, Aurora Bel, Jeff MacSwan, Susana López-Ornat, María José Ezeizabarrena, José Camacho, Liliana Sánchez, Jennifer Austin and María Blume. Partial Support for the preparation of this paper came from: an NSF Dissertation Enhancement research grant (Grant No. SBR-9602911), a NIMH Traineeship (Grant No. T32 MH19926) and a UCLA Dissertation Year Fellowship.


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Case, inflection and subject licensing in child Catalan and Spanish



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