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This paper examines how children acquire Spanish variable clitic placement (VCP), a lexically conditioned phenomenon whereby clitics may precede or follow complex verb phrases. Research on how children acquire truly syntactic variable phenomena suggests that they either generalize one variant initially or they match the variation in the input from the beginning. Here I examine how children acquire the lexical conditioning of Spanish VCP. A corpus study of naturalistic conversations between parents and young children suggests that from the earliest ages examined (2;0-3;0) children display lexically-specific patterns that seem to be fine-tuned by the early school years. Experimental results using two different elicitation techniques with children ages 4;0-7;0 provide further support for early acquisition of the lexical conditioning of VCP and some evidence for fine-tuning during this age window. Thus, methodological triangulation enables detection of variable use where children would otherwise show categorical use of variants with infrequent syntactic phenomena, such as Spanish VCP.
The current study investigates cross-linguistic influence of second language (L2) learning on native language (L1) processing of morphosyntactic variation in proficient L2 learners immersed in their L1. Despite Spanish pre- and postverbal clitic pronoun positions being grammatical in complex verb phrases, preferences of use have been well attested in naturalistic language production. To examine whether those preferences obtain for comprehension in monolinguals, as well as how those preferences might be modulated by learning an L2 with fixed pronoun positions, we administered a self-paced reading experiment to 20 Spanish monolinguals as well as 22 proficient learners English (L1 Spanish). The results of a Bayesian mixed effects regression analysis suggest that preferences in production are echoed in comprehension—but only for the monolingual group. We find support for facilitation in the bilingual group precisely where both languages overlap, as well as evidence that bilinguals may not use clitic position as a reliable cue at all. We interpret the results as evidence that learning an L2 that lacks variation for a particular feature may lead to reduced sensitivity to that feature as a cue in an analogous L1 structure. We situate these results in an experience-based, shared-syntax account of language processing.
Previous comprehension studies using Picture Matching Tasks (PMT) have shown that, by the age of four, Spanish-speaking children have acquired the semantics of estar being able to calculate the implicature that a property introduced with estar does not hold independent of time as well as displaying some ability to integrate discourse information about properties that change in the course of a story. This study extends that line of research to children under the age of four. Thirty-eight monolingual Spanish-speaking children were tested in two PMTs. The results show that at age three children differ from older children in their interpretation of the copulas suggesting that the distinction between ser and estar with adjectives emerges between the ages of three and four.
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