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This study focuses on Estonian verb-complement structures, which include oblique (non-canonically marked) complements marked in spatial cases. Not all approaches agree on whether canonical arguments and oblique complements have argument status of the same type, but they do mostly agree that the two types of complement markings are used by different types of verbs. First, oblique case is viewed as always indexing the original semantics of the case (direct semantics), that is osutama ‘point at’ selecting an allative (‘onto’) complement. Second, oblique case usage is seen as referring to a restricted set of syntactic relations (indirect semantics), that is Estonian allative and adessive being used for marking Experiencers. In any case, oblique complement verbs are viewed as more semantically restricted than canonical object verbs. This study tests these two hypotheses in a quantitative corpus approach. In a non-semantically extracted sample of verbs (n = 232), it compares the lexical-semantic transitivity of oblique and canonical complement verbs in order to investigate the degree to which indirect semantic effects differentiate between the two types of verbs. In addition, it outlines direct semantic effects between oblique case frames in terms of semantic roles. Finally, it investigates the way these patterns are related to the cases’ individual grammaticalisation degrees.
This study investigated three- to five-year-olds’ ability to generalise knowledge of case inflection to novel nouns in Estonian, which has complex morphology and lacks a default declension pattern. We explored whether Estonian-speaking children use similar strategies to adults, and whether they default to a preferred pattern or use analogy to phonological neighbours.
We taught children novel nouns in nominative or allative case and elicited partitive and genitive case forms based on pictures of unfamiliar creatures. Participants included 66 children (3;0–6;0) and 21 adults. Because of multiple grammatical inflection patterns, children’s responses were compared with those of adults for variability, accuracy, and morphological neighbourhood density. Errors were analysed to reveal how children differed from adults.
Young children make use of varied available patterns, but find generalisation difficult. Children’s responses showed much variability, yet even three-year-olds used the same general declension patterns as adults. Accuracy increased with age but responses were not fully adult-like by age five. Neighbourhood density of responses increased with age, indicating that analogy over a larger store of examples underlies proficiency with productive noun inflection. Children did not default to the more transparent, affixal patterns available, preferring instead to use the more frequent, stem-changing patterns.
In this paper, we tackle the twin issues of obligatoriness of semantic arguments and variation in their expression through a study of Estonian constructions denoting need. The variation under investigation consists in the choice of case-marking, between adessive and allative case, as well as the option to omit the oblique argument. We extracted and coded ‘need’-constructions from spoken and written corpora and used non-parametric classification methods for analysis. We found high rates of oblique experiencer omission in these constructions (nearly 60% across corpora). The most important predictors of overt expression of the experiencer in our models were participant-internal modality and the presence of nominal complements, meaning that both semantic and syntactic factors are relevant. The choice between two overt cases is affected by person, complement type, and referential distance. Topical experiencer arguments do not show the subject-like tendency to be omitted more often, but they are more likely to be marked with adessive case, suggesting that adessive is more grammaticalised as a structural, non-nominative, argument-marking case than the more semantic allative case. Our findings show that oblique, semantic arguments may be frequently omitted, and both semantic and syntactic factors may affect variation in case-marking.
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