Published online by Cambridge University Press: 26 September 2008
Pronoun case errors, or overextensions, like *me want it are characteristic of English child language. This paper explores a hypothesis that the morphological structure of a pronoun influences the pattern of these errors. The Language Acquisition Device (LAD) attempts to analyse English pronoun case forms into stems and affixes, but cannot because of their irregularity. Nevertheless the LAD extracts a phonetic core for each pronoun (e.g. /m-/ for the ist sg., /h-/ for the 3rd masc. sg.). The phonetic core blocks the overextension of suppletive nominative forms like I and she. This hypothesis predicts strong differences in the frequency and types of errors between pronouns with suppletive nominatives and those without. Evidence for this hypothesis was found in a transcript database of twelve children, with data collected in one hour samples every month from 1;0 to 3;0. 20,908 pronouns were examined, 1347 of which were errors. Statistical analyses of these data provide support for this hypothesis.
This research was supported in part by a grant (HD 03144) from the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development to the Bureau of Child Research and the Department of Human Development of the University of Kansas. The author would like to thank Tessa Fouquet and Jennifer Lane for their contribution in the analysis of the English data; Robin Chapman, Diane Frome Loeb, Pamela Hadley, Richard Ingram and Anne Vainikka for discussion and criticism; and last but not least, Betty Hart for her selfless labour in developing the JGLP database.
The forms studied as pronouns in this paper are the personal pronouns I, me, he, him, she, her, they, them, together with the related determiners (or possessive adjectives) my, his, her, their.