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From Prosody to Grammar in English: The Differentiation of Catenatives, Modals, and Auxiliaries From a Single Protomorpheme
Ann M. Peters, University of Hawai‘i
1. Introduction One approach to the study of language acquisition focusses on identifying and understanding those properties of language which seem to be universal, i.e. present in all human languages, and which are therefore presumed to be in some sense innate to the human organism. A broader approach seeks understanding of the process of development, focussing on how the less universal aspects of language are acquired. (See discussion in (Braine, 1994) .) While conceding that human children must be endowed with abilities that make possible certain kinds of linguistic knowledge not demonstrable in other species, the focus is less on innate abilities and more on the process of acquisition of the whole of a language. The child is viewed as an organism initially endowed with a range of abilities (including motor, sensory, affective, and social) which develop over time, and driven by functional and social needs to learn ever more about language structure and use. My own interests in the dynamics and complexity of language acquisition put me in this second camp, where I can consider the simultaneous interaction and cross-fertilization of different kinds of development: anatomical, neurological, social, affective, cognitive, cultural, and linguistic factors (see discussion in Barber & Peters, 1992 ). Viewing language acquisition as but a part of a much more complex developmental process has led me away from the assumption that language acquisition and analysis are all-or-none states (either you know it or you don't); rather I find much evidence that partial analysis and partial acquisition are pervasive -- even for native- speaking adults. (See, e.g. Peters & Menn (1993) for discussion.) Finally, my approach to the description of language development is linguistically conservative, relying upon as few assumptions as possible about innate presence of linguistic categories and knowledge of linguistic structure. From such a starting point, one approach to understanding early syntactic development is to see how much of it can be adequately described by means of a series of phrase structure grammars, each successive one of which has a larger number of linguistic categories, and a larger number of positional slots to be filled or expanded. The child is assumed to gradually discover that he needs not only to include more open-class lexical items (especially nouns and adjectives together with each verb), but that there are more and more closed class positions in the vicinity of each that he must fill. To what extent is such a scenario supported by evidence? I will demonstrate this approach in the following description of the development of auxiliaries, modals, and catenative verbs in my data from an English-speaking child.