Kamil Ud Deen

Department of Linguistics
University of Hawai`i at Manoa

  • 2002: Ph.D., UCLA, Applied Linguistics
  • 1995: Ed.M., Harvard University
  • 1994: B.A., UCLA, Linguistics
Research Interests
My primary interest is in the acquisition of a first language. I have worked on the acquisition of inflection, both morphological and syntactic, including agreement, tense, mood, and aspect. More recently, my interests have focused on the acquisition of reference binding of referential expressions, pronouns and other anaphors.  
My perspective
My perspective on language acquisition is tempered. Some believe that input determines language acquisition, and there is no innate component whatsoever. The opposite view is - that all of language is innate - is, quite obviously, equally extreme. While I don't think all language is innate (nobody does), I do think there is a substantial innate component to language that aids the child in the acquisition of language. That does not preclude input as an important factor in acquisition, it simply means that input and innate principals work together in the acquisition of language. This seems like a reasonable position to me.  
Cross-Linguistic Diversity
I'm interested in the breadth of patterns that children acquire and exhibit. As such, I put a lot of merit on understudied languages. My own interests focus mostly on two languages: Thai and Swahili. Thai is an interesting language for many reasons, not least of which is that it supposedly violates Principle C of the binding theory (Lasnik, 1989). Binding is thought to be part of Universal Grammar, and therefore present in all children at birth. Evidence for this comes from a variety of studies that show that children acquiring languages such as English, show evidence of Principle C at the earliest testable ages (see, for example, Crain, 1991). This mismatch between a supposed principle of Universal Grammar and the empirical facts is intriguing to me, and has formed the basis of my work for the last few years.  
Besides Thai and Bantu, I have interests that center on the languages of the Pacific. Working with students like Nozomi Tanaka and Ivan Bondoc (Tagalog) and Grant Muagututia (Samoan), my interests have developed to include phenomena that are relevant to these languages (such as ergativity, voice, etc.). I am also interested in Chinese (working with Elaine Lau, Claire Stabile, Li Blake, etc.), Japanese (working with Akari Ohba and Professor Shin Fukuda, EALL), and Korean (Jinsun Choe, Kum Jeong Joo, Professor William O'Grady, and others). I also have experience and interests in the acquisition of various other languages, including: Vietnamese, Serbo-Croatian, and others. And of course, I am always looking for new languages to investigate.  

Current Projects

Empathy and Subject Prominence in Child Language 
For many years, I have been interested in the fact that subjects seem to hold a special place in grammar, both adult and child. This is reflected in the topics listed below, but the essence of the point is that children (and adults) seem to privilege the subject (over other arguments) for a number of grammatical operations. These operations include relativization, wh-questions, and others. Recently, led by the talent of Akari Ohba, a current graduate student, the topic of empathy (aka perspective) has come to the fore. The basic idea is that Japanese (and other languages) represent empathy grammatically. What we have found so far in our experiments is that children appear to have a privileged position for subject empathy, which is reminiscent of the general subject prominence referred to above. I am investigating the possibility that grammatical empathy might actually be a piece that links all (or many) of the phenomena mentioned above. That is, what if this subject empathy preference is responsible for the other subject prominence effects we know about? Intriguing.  

Akari and I have also embarked on a large project investigating how empathy, long distance binding and mental verbs all interact. See our most recent publications for more. 
Acquisition of Passive Voice 
A long standing interest of mine is how children acquire the passive voice. This isn’t just about the passive voice as a construction, but rather about much meatier issues in human language. The passive presents an interesting case where the agent and theme do not occur in their canonical positions relative to the verb. This poses interesting issues related to whether those canonical mappings interfere with children’s understanding of passive voice, what factors might overcome that tendency, etc. The acquisition of the passive has also been a hot-bed of debate with regard to some interesting grammatical theories of development, such as the A-Chain Deficit Hypothesis (Borer & Wexler, 1992) or the Universal Freezing Hypothesis (Snyder & Hyams, 2015). I am currently working on the passive with numerous students, including Gyu-Ho Shin and Akari Ohba.  
Acquisition of Wh-Questions in Tok Pisin 
Working with Hiroko Sato (UHM Ph.D., 2013), we are currently investigating the acquisition of wh-questions in Tok Pisin. The language is an in-situ language, though it allows focus clefting of some constituents. We ran a production task with adults and found 100% in-situ wh-questions, but surprisingly, children fronted wh-questions quite often. Moreover, they produced a typology of resumptives in the gap position which are very revealing. We presented our results at the 2018 BUCLD and continue to work on this issue. 
Acquisition of Tagalog 
Working with William O’Grady, Nozomi Tanaka and Ivan Bondoc, we are investigating various issues in the acquisition of Tagalog. The voice system is the lynchpin that holds the whole system together in Tagalog, and we are looking how children acquire various structures that involve the voice system, e.g., basic transitive sentences, relative clauses, sentences involving reflexives, etc. We have also extended this work to investigating whether patients with aphasia show the same patterns in their speech as children or normal adults.  
Intervention and the Acquisition of Ergativity in Samoan 
Working with Grant Muagututia and William O’Grady, we are exploring the acquisition of ergativity in Samoan by children and heritage speakers. We are currently conducting intervention experiments on both morphological and syntactic ergativity, with an eye on whether ergativity can be induced, and how that knowledge generalizes to other structures (on which intervention never occurred).  
Acquisition of Inflection 
A continuing interest of mine from my dissertation and the last five years of my research. The focus is varied, but I am primarily interested in the variation and similarity exhibited in the acquisition of inflection from language to language.  
Intergenerational Transmission 
Perhaps the most important factor in measuring the vitality of a language is whether children are acquiring the parental language. This is codified in a number of scales or indices of vitality, e.g., Fishman's GIDS, Lewis & Simons' EGIDS, the 2009 UNESCO Framework, etc. However, in all this work, there is no clear or commonly accepted method by which intergenerational transmission can be measured. Without this, it is hard to make sense of reports on intergenerational transmission. If every researcher or community activist is subjectively gauging whether children are acquiring a language, we really don't have any way to objectively assess the vitality of those languages. A major project we are working on here in Hawaii is to develop a tool to measure intergenerational transmission. 
Deen, Kamil Ud (2005). The Acquisition of Swahili. Language Acquisition and Language Disorders series (Harald Clahsen & Lydia White, eds). Amsterdam/Philadelphia: John Benjamins Publishing, November 2005, 241 pages.
Becker, Misha & Kamil Ud Deen (2020). Language Acquisition and Development: A Generative Introduction. MIT Press.
Select Peer-Reviewed Articles
• Ohba, Akari & Kamil Ud Deen (2022). Acquisition of Empathy in Child Japanese. Language Acquisition, 29:3. 260-295, DOI: 10.1080/10489223.2021.2017439
• Deen, Kamil Ud (2017). The acquisition of morphology. In Cairns-Smith, H. & E. Fernandez(eds). Handbook of Psycholinguistics. Wiley/Blackwell.
• Deen, Kamil Ud (2017). Mood Alternations. In Lidz, J., W. Snyder & J. Pater. (eds) The Oxford Handbook of Developmental Linguistics. Oxford University Press.
• Deen, Kamil Ud (2015). The Morphosytax Interface. In Bavin, E. (ed) Handbook of Child Language, second edition. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
• Deen, Kamil Ud (2013). The Acquisition of Subject and Object Clitics in Nairobi Swahili. Pedro Guijarro-Fuentes & Pilar Larrañaga (eds), Clitics and their Acquisition, Mouton de Gruyter, 237-256.
• Deen, Kamil Ud (2012). The Morphosytax Interface. In Bavin, E. (ed) Handbook of Child Language. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. Second Edition, 259-280.
• Deen, Kamil Ud (2011). The Acquisition of the Passive. In de Villiers, J. & T. Roeper. (eds) Handbook of Generative Approaches to Language Acquisition. John Benjamins Publisher, 155-188.
Conference Proceedings
• Joo, Kum Jeong, Kamil Ud Deen & William O'Grady (2015). Acquisition of the Korean Reflexive Pronouns in Intra-Sentential Binding and Extra-Sentential Binding. In Proceedings of the 39th annual Boston University Conference on Language Development. Cascadilla Press, Somerville, MA.
• Kim, Chae-Eun, William O'Grady and Kamil Ud Deen, and Kitaek Kim (2014). Fast Syntactic Mapping. In Will Orman and Matthew James Valleau (eds) Proceedings of the 38th Annual Boston University Conference on Language Development. Cascadilla Press, Somverville, MA.229-239.
• Tanaka, Nozomi, William O'Grady, Kamil Ud Deen, Chae-Eun Kim, Ryoko Hattori, Ivan Paul M. Bondoc & Jennifer U. Soriano (2014). Acquisition of Tagalog Relative Clauses. In Will Orman and Matthew James Valleau (eds) Proceedings of the 38th annual Boston University Conference on Language Development. Cascadilla Press, Somerville, MA, 463-470.
• Kim, Kitaek, William O'Grady, & Kamil Ud Deen (2014). Poor Performance on Scrambled Korean OSV Sentences by Korean Heritage Children: Performance, Not Competence. In Chia-Ying Chu, Caitlin E. Coughlin, Beatriz Lopez Prego, Utako Minai, and Annie Tremblay (eds), Selected Proceedings of the 5th Conference on Generative Approaches to Language Acquisition North America (GALANA 2012). Cascadilla Proceedings Project, Somerville, MA, 51-59.
• Choe, Jinsun, Kamil Ud Deen, & William O'Grady. (2014). Children seem to know raising: Intervention effects in child language. In Robert E. Santana-LaBarge (ed.), Proceedings of the 31st West Coast Conference on Formal Linguistics (WCCFL), 107-114. Somerville, MA: Cascadilla Proceedings Project.
Current and Past Students
Akari Ohba: child language acquisition, syntax, Japanese, empathy, binding, quantification
Anongnard Nusartlert: child language acquisition, Thai, Isaan, language revitalization
Anu Reddy: multilingual language acquisition, verb learning, Marathi