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First Language Acquisition in Spanish

Continuum Studies in Theoretical Linguistics

Continuum Studies in Theoretical Linguistics publishes work at the forefront


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Other titles in the series:


Syntax in Functional Grammar, G. David Morley
Agreement, Pronominal Clitics and Negation in Tamazight Berber, Hamid Ouali
Deviational Syntactic Structures, Hans Götzsche
A Neural Network Model of Lexical Organisation, Michael Fortescue
The Syntax and Semantics of Discourse Markers, Miriam Urgelles-Coll
First Language Acquisition
in Spanish
A Minimalist Approach to
Nominal Agreement

Gilda M. Socarrás

Continuum Studies in Theoretical Linguistics


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© Gilda M. Socarrás 2011

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To children who hold all the answers
if we are willing to wait
Contents

Preface ix
Acknowledgments xiii

Chapter 1 Theoretical Foundations 1


Chapter 2 Experimental Methodology 9
Chapter 3 Gender Agreement 27
Chapter 4 Number Agreement 94
Chapter 5 Emergence of Determiner Phrases 151
Chapter 6 Conclusions 176
Appendices 186

Notes 207
Bibliography 214
Index 221
Preface

The aim of this monograph is to present a cross-sectional experimental


approach to the study of nominal agreement in Spanish child language
with the purpose of complementing previous studies on this subject and in
some instances filling the gaps left by them. In particular, this monograph
focuses on the acquisition of gender (feminine/masculine) and number
(singular/plural) agreement by three monolingual Spanish-speaking chil-
dren under the age of three. The majority of studies on the acquisition of
Spanish as a first language are written in the context of the parametric
approach, but I have chosen to adopt the framework of the Minimalist
Program (MP) (Chomsky 1995, 2001) for two major reasons. First, the MP
offers an elegant analysis of the acquisition of nominal agreement based on
a process of matching or checking features (see Chapter 1). Second, it is
hoped that the use of this approach will advance the research on Spanish
acquisition to the theoretical developments of the past 15 years. Nonethe-
less, the adoption of a new paradigm is not without its challenges, as will be
discussed in the remainder of the book.
The present monograph addresses formal aspects such as the availability
of functional categories in child language, a vital component in the feature
checking or matching process within the MP, as well as issues pertaining to
the acquisition process, for example, how gender and number features
are acquired. In particular, it explores whether children are able to estab-
lish target-like agreement relations between nominals and their determin-
ers (i.e., grammatical agreement), as well as agreement with respect to
the actual utterance referent (i.e., semantic agreement), as illustrated in
Example 1.

Example 1
(a) La casa linda (Referent ‘one house’)
‘The (fem/sg) house (fem/sg) pretty (fem/sg)’
(b) *La casa linda (Referent ‘two houses’)
x Preface

Determiner Phrases (DPs) in Example 1 are both target-like in terms of


grammatical agreement, that is, in both of them the feminine singular features
of the determiner la ‘the’ and the adjective linda ‘pretty’ match those of the
nominal casa ‘house.’ However, only Example 1(a) is semantically target-like
with respect to the intended referent “one house.” In contrast, Example
1(b) illustrates a mismatch in terms of semantic agreement, that is, the use
of a singular DP to refer to a plural referent, in this case “two houses.”
Although essential to the acquisition process, this aspect has been over-
looked in previous studies, to my knowledge. As I will discuss in Chapters 3
and 4, on gender and number agreement respectively, this process has an
impact on children’s production.
Spanish is an ideal language for the study of nominal agreement acquisi-
tion because most nominals and modifiers are marked overtly for gender
and number, as illustrated in Example 2.

Example 2
(a) El niño exitoso
‘The (masc/sg) boy (masc/sg) successful (masc/sg)’
(b) Las niñas exitosas
‘The (fem/pl) girls (fem/pl) successful (fem/pl)’
(c) El/La estudiante exitoso/a
‘The (masc/sg)/fem/sg) student (unm/sg) successful(masc/sg)/
(fem/sg)’

In Example 2(a) the masculine singular features of the determiner el


‘the’ and the adjective exitoso ‘successful’ match those of the nominal niño
‘boy.’ Similarly, in Example 2(b) the feminine plural features of the deter-
miner las ‘the’ and the adjective exitosas ‘successful’ match those of the
nominal niñas ‘girls.’ The majority of nominals in the Spanish language fall
into these two groups, or what Harris (1991) calls the core: nominals ending
in the word marker –o are masculine, whereas nominals ending in the word
marker –a are feminine. Finally, Example 2(c) presents a nominal not
overtly marked for gender, that is, ending in the vowel –e. In the case of
nominals such as estudiante ‘student’ the only way to know their gender is
through the agreement relations they establish with other constituents, that
is, the determiner el or la and the adjective exitoso or exitosa. Notice the fol-
lowing contrast between the acquisition of gender and number agreement
morphology: while it is possible, although not target-like, to produce a DP
without marking its plurality—for example, la casa ‘the house’ instead of la-s
casa–s ‘the houses’— it is not possible to produce a DP without marking its
Preface xi

gender, for example, *el or la cas–. In this fashion, children acquiring


Spanish are “forced” to choose between the two values of the gender fea-
ture and in doing so, provide us with a window to their underlying system.
For this reason, the present study will also address the issue of the availabil-
ity of initial default values, that is, whether children’s non-target-like pro-
duction reflects a pattern on the selection of one value over the other one,
for example, masculine over feminine gender.1
Any serious study on child language acquisition needs to address the con-
troversial topic of the initial state, what children bring to the acquisition
process and how they converge into the target language. On the one side,
supporters of the Continuity Hypothesis (Crain & Thornton 1998; Pinker
1984, Valian 2009a, among many others) state that children start the
acquisition process guided from the start by Universal Grammar (UG), a
language faculty that guides the process. On the other side, supporters of
the Discontinuity Hypothesis (Radford 1990, 1994; Tomasello 2000, among
others) claim children do not bring any language-specific mechanism to
the acquisition process, merely the preexisting cognitive mechanisms and
processes. As with any controversy, both sides face their own challenges.
Nativists see UG as a theory of the initial state but need to explain children’s
less-than-perfect production, and empiricists expect children to produce
non-target-like utterances because there are no guiding principles available
to them from the onset. In this hypothesis, children build their grammar
based on the input they receive. The challenge for discontinuous analyses
is to explain how children converge into the target grammar in the short
span of three years, given the impoverished input they receive, that is, infor-
mation present in the input is not enough to account for the acquisition of
certain principles (Valian 2009a). The present monograph adopts a version
of the Continuity Hypothesis, which assumes that although children come
to the acquisition process guided by UG, their production is expected to
deviate from the target language as long as it does not violate any principles
of UG (Crain 1991 & Thornton 1998, among others). For example, in the
present study, the production of singular nominals to refer to plural refer-
ents is not interpreted as a deficiency in children’s grammar but as the
selection of one of the options available in language. For example, lan-
guages such as Chinese do not mark plurality.
The present monograph is targeted at my fellow child language research-
ers and graduate students familiar with the generative linguistics field, as well
as to theoretical linguists, given the intrinsic comparative nature of the gen-
erative approach. In addition, I also hope the book is accessible to research-
ers working in other frameworks in fields such as Romance linguistics,
xii Preface

comparative linguistics, psychology, and second language acquisition. To


achieve this goal, the writing style may necessarily be oversimplified for
specialists in certain fields for whom certain aspects do not need to be spelt
out. To balance this issue, chapters in this book are mostly self-contained to
help readers choose topics of interest. That said, the aim of the present
monograph is not to explore the theoretical options offered by the differ-
ent permutations of the MP but to apply its theoretical principles to the
acquisition of Spanish. Furthermore, this book is not intended as a text-
book on experimental design but as an example of the application of this
methodology to the study of Spanish child language (see Crain & Thornton
1998). The organizational structure of the rest of the monograph is
described next. Chapter 1 provides an overview of the theoretical linguis-
tics framework adopted in this work, in particular, how agreement is seen
within this framework. In addition, this first chapter addresses the contro-
versy over the initial state and the predictions each hypothesis makes regard-
ing acquisition of nominal agreement in Spanish. Chapter 2 describes the
experimental design used for the present study, including the tasks devel-
oped and the selection of props. Chapter 3 discusses the topic of gender
agreement and the use of an initial default value as what I propose, an
acquisition strategy. Chapter 4 focuses on the acquisition of number agree-
ment, the production of bare singulars, and an analysis of referentiality.
Chapter 5 deals with the topic of the emergence of the DP, from the
production of bare nominals, vocalic determiners (Aguirre 1995; Bottari,
Cipriani, & Chilosi 1993/1994; López Ornat 1997) to full DPs. Finally,
Chapter 6 presents a set of conclusions for the present study as well as areas
for further research.
Acknowledgments

Many beings have supported this monograph from its inception to the
present form. First, a heartfelt thanks to the Puerto Rican children who
participated in this research and who were always ready to “play” with me in
those incredibly hot afternoons in the Island. You continue to inspire me!
Second, I will always be indebted to my dissertation committee members.
To Dr Lardiere, my advisor, many thanks for her professional guidance and
patience. My gratitude goes to Dr Thornton, who taught me the beauty of
child language research. Thanks! Many thanks to Dr Crain, who believed
in the linguist in me and helped me grasp the big picture of language. To
Dr Campos, the eternal learner and the example of overall professional
excellence. ¡Gracias profesor!
Many thanks to all the parents for allowing their children to participate
in this research and to the University of Puerto Rico and the Fajardo
Montesori School for opening their facilities to conduct my experiment.
Special thanks go to my parents, Efraín and Nieves, for their love, support
and lifelong example. Los quiero y admiro. And to Yiannis, for his love, faith
in me and unconditional support. Ευχαριστώ. To Adriana Merced, who
made me believe in miracles.
Chapter 1

Theoretical Foundations

A fundamental goal of the research program developed under the generative


tradition is to explain the human language faculty, that is, what does it
mean to know a language. This inquiry has produced a vast body of research
over the last three decades that seems to bring us closer to understanding
language. Closely related to this topic is the issue of the initial state, that is,
how do children acquire language and more specifically what, if anything,
do they bring to the acquisition process and how do they converge to the
target grammar. In this chapter, I address these two topics. The first part of
the chapter starts with an overview of the theoretical linguistics framework
adopted in this monograph, the Minimalist Program (MP) (Chomsky 1995,
2001) and how this approach can be applied to the acquisition of Spanish
nominal agreement. The second part of the chapter focuses on some of
the major proposals made in the literature regarding the initial state (con-
tinuous vs discontinuous approaches) and their predictions for the present
study.

1.1 Agreement in the Minimalist Program

The Minimalist Program (Chomsky 1995, 2001) assumes a language faculty


construct comprised of a cognitive system (which stores information) and a
performance system (which access and uses this information). Similarly to
the Principles & Parameters Approach (Chomsky 1981), the focus of inquiry
in the MP framework is the cognitive system and its two components: the
lexicon and the computational system. The lexicon stores Lexical Items
(LIs) of a particular language, roughly speaking words, along with their
idiosyncratic requirements or specifications. The computational system is
where syntactic operations take place.
At the heart of the MP approach is the assumption that the locus of
language variation is the lexicon (not the syntax), expressed in this system
as feature specifications on LIs, for example, the specification of gender
2 First Language Acquisition in Spanish

features in Spanish nominals. Notice that features of LIs may be phonologi-


cal, semantic, morphological, or syntactic in nature. The MP also assumes
that LIs, such as nominals, verbs, and adjectives come inflected and with
their features already specified from the lexicon. For example, in the
Spanish determiner phrase (DP) la casa bonita ‘the pretty house’ lexical
items such as the nominal casa and the adjective bonita come from the lexi-
con inflected with the word marker –a and with the nominal features, in
this example, feminine and singular already specified or what can be repre-
sented as [– masculine, + singular]. In contrast, functional items such as the
determiner la do not come from the lexicon with these features specified or
what can be represented as [masculine, singular]. Notice that in this last
case, no values were given to these nominal features.1 For the present study,
I assume that adjectives such as bonita come from the lexicon uninflected
and with unspecified values for the gender and number features, and when
they enter into an agreement relationship with the nominal they modify,
the values of these features are inherited or specified to match those of the
nominal in question and expressed overtly through morphological affixes.2
Under this assumption, a lexical category such as adjectives will be analyzed
in the same fashion as a functional category such as determiners, as sug-
gested by Koehn (1994); that is, both will match their unspecified agree-
ment features to those of the nominal head. Supporting this distinction
between nouns and adjectives is the fact that most nouns in Spanish are
specified as either feminine or masculine, but they cannot be both, whereas
adjectives can be feminine or masculine according to the noun they are
modifying or predicating, for example, bonito (masculine) versus bonita
(feminine), as pointed out by Aronoff (1994), Harris (1991), and others.3
In the MP, features such as gender and number are assigned in the lexi-
con the property of interpretability by Universal Grammar (UG), according
to the lexical item they are specifying, for example, gender and number are
seen as “interpretable” when assigned to a nominal like casa, but they are
seen as “uninterpretable” when they are assigned to a functional category,
as with the determiner la. Crucially, interpretability has consequences for
the derivation: while interpretable features are allowed to stay through the
derivation because their content can be “read” by both the Phonological
Form, or PF (roughly speaking, language morphophonological compo-
nent), and the Logical Form, or LF (roughly speaking, language semantic
component) interface levels, uninterpretable features need to be checked
or deleted for the derivation to converge because their content is super-
fluous or cannot be interpreted by the interface levels.
Now we turn the discussion to the derivation of nominal agreement
within the MP framework.
Theoretical Foundations 3

1.1.1 Nominal Agreement


The MP derivation starts with a numeration or selection of the LIs, roughly
words, that will be used in the derivation, including how many times they
will be used. Then the operation of Merge takes place cyclically, until all
items from the numeration are used. This operation creates binary rela-
tions between two or more items from the numeration. A consequence of
Merge then is the creation of new syntactic objects, for example, the DP
la casa. Notice in this analysis Noun Phrases (NPs) are interpreted as DPs,
as proposed by Abney’s (1987) DP Hypothesis, which take as a complement
an NP.4 In this example, the new syntactic object formed, la casa, has a
determiner with unspecified/uninterpretable gender and number features,
for example, [masculine, singular], and a nominal with specified/interpre-
table gender and number features, for example, [– masculine, + singular].
Recall that in this analysis, uninterpretable features need to be eliminated
for the derivation to converge. This process is known as Agree(ment)
(Chomsky 2001), and in this example, it serves to match or add the feature
specification values of nominal casa to those of the determiner la. The out-
come of Agree is the removal of the uninterpretable features, in this exam-
ple from the determiner. Once uninterpretable features are valued and
deleted, the derivation can proceed to the interface levels.
Agreement then in the MP is understood as a feature-checking process
expressed syntactically in a Spec-head configuration (with some excep-
tions) between α (lexical item with interpretable features) and β (lexical
item with uninterpretable features), as illustrated in Example 1.1 for the
DP la casa bonita.

Example 1.1
[DP D la [FP F casa [AgrP bonita AGR casa [NP casa]]]]

In Example 1.1, the nominal head casa raises to the head of the func-
tional projection AgrP to check the agreement features of the adjectival
head bonita in a Spec-head configuration.5 In the determiner case, I assume
that the agreement features of the N-head are copied (or inherited) by the
D-head. Then, the agreement features of the Determiner head are checked
by raising the nominal head to the functional category FP, as shown in the
example. Notice that in the case of the agreement features of the Determiner
head, the checking mechanism does not involve a Spec-head configuration
but is checked via percolation, that is, the agreement features of the N-head
percolate up from N to D (Radford 1997, among others). For the present
monograph, I adopt Cinque’s (1994) and Bosque and Picallo’s (1996)
4 First Language Acquisition in Spanish

analyses for adjectives and assume that they are generated as specifiers
of functional projections, in this case, an Agreement Phrase, as shown in
Example 1.1. Furthermore, I assume the availability of a functional projec-
tion between the DP and the Nominal Phrase, where Spanish nominals
raise to check strong features.6
Notice that N-raising in the example above is motivated within the MP
by an additional characteristic of the features, namely, strength. In this
framework, a formal feature such as gender or number may or may not be
strong, forcing the operation Move (Chomsky 1995). Spanish, among other
Romance languages, has been characterized as a language with strong
nominal features, hence movement to the appropriate functional head(s)
within DP is required for the derivation to converge (Bernstein 1991; Brugè
2002; Cinque 1994; Longobardi 1994; among others). In contrast, languages
such as English are presumed to have weak N-features, and therefore no
N-movement is required. The notion of feature strength in the MP, although
difficult to define in concrete terms, accounts for some cross-linguistic
differences between Spanish and English. For example, the attested attribu-
tive adjectival placement: in pre-nominal position in English, for example,
pretty house, and in post-nominal position in Spanish, for example casa bonita
‘house pretty.’7 That is, in Spanish the noun casa raises to check its strong
features, hence appearing before the adjective bonita, whereas in English
the noun house does not because it has weak features.8
The overview of agreement within the MP above reveals a puzzling aspect
about the agreement process: feature content is added to unspecified con-
stituents and then the same content is deleted later on. Miyagawa (2010)
addresses this issue, pointing out the redundant, asymmetric, and appar-
ently irrelevant nature of agreement. For example, in the DP la casa bonita,
the relation is asymmetric because only one element, the nominal casa,
holds the values for the features that are “copied” to the other elements.
Agreement is also redundant because the same information, in this case,
the features feminine and singular, is repeated on three constituents: the
nominal, the determiner, and the adjective. Furthermore, once the uninter-
pretable features receive a value specification through agreement, they
must be deleted before LF so that they will not receive a semantic inter-
pretation. Therefore, the actual content of agreement seems irrelevant.
Miyagawa sheds some light on this matter, proposing that the purpose
of Agree is to create functional relations between a functional head and
an XP. These relations are critical because they “substantially enhance the
expressive power of human language” (Miyagawa 2010, 8). In the example
above, the purpose of N-raising or Move is to keep record of the functional
Theoretical Foundations 5

relation created in the syntax, that is, agreement, so that it can be used by
the semantic interpretation or LF.

1.2 The Initial State

One of the most fundamental questions in the field of language acquisition


refers to the definition of the initial state, that is, what do children bring to
the acquisition process and how do they converge into their target language
in the short span of three to four years, that is, input available to children is
comprised of a finite set of sentences but a language is defined of an infi-
nite set of sentences. These questions, part of what is known as the logical
problem of language acquisition (Baker & McCarthy 1981; Pinker 1989)
have given rise in the literature to a debate that can be defined as the oppo-
sition between continuous versus discontinuous approaches, or between
nativist versus empiricist views. In this section, I review some of the propos-
als put forth in the literature and their predictions for the acquisition of
nominal agreement, the focus of this monograph.
Pinker (1984) proposes the Continuity Hypothesis, stating that the null
hypothesis for an acquisition theory is that the cognitive mechanisms of chil-
dren and adults are identical, that is, all the various modules of the child’s
grammar are present from the beginning of the acquisition process and
only require exposure to linguistic data to get activated. Within the Continu-
ity Hypothesis, two major variants have been advanced, namely, Strong
continuity versus Weak continuity. Proponents of strong continuity believe
that children’s grammar contains all the principles of UG from the onset of
acquisition in the form used in the target language (Goodluck 1991; Hyams
1994, 1996, among others). The challenge for this hypothesis is to account
for children’s non-adult-like production. Supporters of this view interpret
children’s non-target-like utterances or the developmental stages attested in
the data as reflections of a deficit in one of the interface levels, that is, the
morphophonological or the semantic component. This version of continu-
ity offers a very powerful hypothesis in terms of learnability, that is, children
converge to the target grammar in a relatively short period of time because
they are not only guided by UG but also select the same options of the
grammar in their linguistic community. However, if children’s and adults’
grammars are the same from the onset, this hypothesis needs to posit defi-
cits in other areas to account for children’s less than perfect production, for
example, the performance systems. Moreover, it is not clear how children
would overcome these issues to converge on the target grammar.
6 First Language Acquisition in Spanish

Proponents of weak continuity also believe that children come to the


acquisition process guided by UG but that their grammars do not have to
conform necessarily to the target grammar; rather, what is relevant is that
their grammar does not violate the principles of UG (Crain & Thornton
1998; Crain & Pietroski 2001, among others). In this version, the difference
between child and adult grammars is reduced to the differences existing
among languages. Notice also that availability of UG helps learners limit
the hypotheses generated regarding the linguistic input, that is, UG con-
strains linguistic variability to a limited number of parameters or different
features within the MP. Evidence in support of a continuous approach
should show that children have knowledge of UG principles that could not
have been derived from the primary linguistic data (Crain & Thornton
1998; Valian 2009a). Experimental studies have brought support for a con-
tinuous analysis. For example, research has shown that children do not
violate UG linguistic principles, that is, they have knowledge of constraints
in interpretation of (Crain & Thornton 1998) and on structure-dependence
(Crain & Nakayama 1987). Furthermore, studies have found that children
also have knowledge of abstract principles such as the semantic property
known as downward entailment (Chierchia 2004; Crain, Gualmini, & Pietroski
2005) that accounts for a series asymmetries in sentences (subject phrase
and predicate phrase) with the universal quantifier every, for example,
entailment relations among sentences and the interpretation of disjunction
(Gualmini, Meroni, & Crain 2003; Meroni, Gualmini, & Crain 2006).
Children’s ability to interpret correctly these asymmetries, which on the
surface seem unrelated, brings support for the availability of an underlying
system guiding the acquisition process. For the present monograph, I assume
a weak continuity version of the initial state. This assumption predicts that
children’s production of DPs should be the reflection of a language and as
such should not violate the principles of UG.
I should point out that several versions of weak continuity have been
advanced in the literature to account for the children’s non-adult-like pro-
duction found in production data. On one hand, some researchers (e.g.,
Clahsen 1990/1991 and Deprez 1994, among others) assume that functional
projections are initially left underspecified in the initial grammar whereas
Vainikka (1993/1994) claims that functional projections need to be trig-
gered by the input to be instantiated, hence they develop gradually; that is,
children first project Verb Phrase, then Inflectional Phrase, and finally
Complementizer Phrase. On the other hand, researchers such as Bloom
(1990, 1993) claim that children have performance limitations that affect
their production. He argues, for example, that children omit subjects in
English due to memory limitations.9
Theoretical Foundations 7

I now turn my discussion to discontinuous analyses of the initial state,


that is, proposals defending the hypothesis that children’s grammars are
qualitatively different from adults’ grammars. One of the key advocates
of this approach is Radford (1990, 1994) in his Maturational Hypothesis.
He states that certain principles mature like any instance of biological
maturation. In this analysis, children’s early grammar starts at a lexical or
pre-categorical stage that lacks functional projections such as DPs, that is,
children’s sentences are projections of the four primary lexical heads
(nouns, verbs, adjectives, and prepositions). He supports his hypothesis
with examples of children’s determinerless utterances, such as Paula
good girl (Paula 18) and Open can (Allison 22). Moreover, in this analysis
children’s lack of DPs also accounts for their failure to mark genitive case,
for example, Mummy [car]. Radford’s maturational account is able to
explain the developmental nature observed in the data, but it only provides
descriptive adequacy because it cannot account for how the “immature”
components mature and why they develop the way they do.10 Moreover, this
particular hypothesis removes the theory of UG as a theory of the initial
state, as pointed out by Lust (1999) by invoking, for example, the unavail-
ability of certain UG components at the onset of acquisition; UG thus
becomes a theory of the final state rather than the initial state.
More recently, usage-based approaches to language acquisition, a differ-
ent version of a discontinuous approach, have become very popular in the
literature, such as the Constructivist approach (López Ornat 2003; Pine &
Lieven 1997; Tomasello 2000, 2003). In this approach, children come to
the acquisition process without any language-specific mechanisms and only
with general learning abilities. Language is acquired in a piecemeal fashion
through the regularities extracted from the input. With regard to the pres-
ent study, this approach would argue that children only need to be exposed
to the input to acquire nominal agreement in Spanish by extracting the
regularities present in the input. Support for this approach is found in
recent statistical data analyses of the regularities found in the input to
children (Behrens 2006; MacWhinney 2004; Pullum & Scholtz 2002; Smith,
Nix, Davey, López Ornat, & Messer 2009). Overall, these studies claim that
these regularities seem sufficient to guide the acquisition process without
having to posit innateness of linguistic knowledge.11 Notice that continuous
approaches recognize regularities present in the input; they differ on the
role these regularities play in the acquisition process.
Nonetheless, data-driven approaches such as the one discussed here face
serious shortcomings in terms of their explanatory adequacy, as pointed
out by Crain and Thornton (2006). First, for this approach to work, children
need to be able to keep a detailed record of the attested structures in the
8 First Language Acquisition in Spanish

input given the fact that they have no principles or constraints guiding the
acquisition process. Second, this hypothesis is very language specific because
it relies solely on the input to which a child is exposed in a particular lan-
guage. Hence, it fails to explain cross-linguistic generalizations, for exam-
ple, the attested phenomenon of determiner omission in child language
and how do children convey to the target language. On the other hand,
under the continuity approach, children are guided by UG, and one possi-
ble explanation for determiner omission is the Nominal Mapping Parameter
(Chierchia 1998a, 1998b; Chierchia, Guasti, and Gualmini 2000). This
hypothesis accounts for determiner omission cross-linguistically, asserting
that children start the acquisition process with a mass-like interpretation
of nominals and the primary linguistic data guides them to choose the
target-like setting of the parameter. Moreover, this parameter unifies other
seemingly unrelated phenomenon present in child language, namely, the
production of unmarked plurals. In addition, data-driven accounts of
acquisition fail to explain how children acquire knowledge in the absence
of experience, for example, the interpretation of anaphoric relations.
Continuous approaches on the other hand rely on the availability of linguis-
tic constraints, in this case Binding Theory Principle C.12 For the present
monograph, a data-driven analysis predicts that children will be conserva-
tive learners and will omit determiners but when they do start producing
them, their utterances should match the primary linguistic data, the only
source of information available, according to this approach. In contrast,
a continuous approach will predict that children’s production should not
violate the principles of UG even though it might not match the target
language.
Chapter 2

Experimental Methodology

2.1 Data

Two major approaches to data collection dominate the field of child


language acquisition: the naturalistic and the experimental. In the former,
children’s spontaneous speech is recorded, usually during free play, whereas
in the latter, particular structures are elicited from children through exper-
imental tasks set within the context of a game. Both approaches can be
longitudinal or cross-sectional, and both offer advantages and disadvan-
tages to researchers. The data for the present study was obtained through a
series of cross-sectional experimental tasks: two elicited production tasks and
one comprehension task. A cross-sectional design was chosen because of time
constraints, that is, the experimenter had a time limit of two months to
complete the data collection, because the study was conducted abroad in
Puerto Rico. Unlike longitudinal studies, this type of research does not pro-
vide a picture of how the acquisition process evolves for a particular child.
Nonetheless, children at different developmental stages, measured in Mean
Length Utterance in words, were included in the study in order to provide
a sample of different stages of acquisition.
The experimental approach was chosen for several reasons. First, the
elicited production technique provides the researcher with greater experi-
mental control in terms of the meaning and context associated with a par-
ticular utterance (Crain & Thornton 1998; Thornton 1996). For example,
in the present study, the experimenter was able to create a story and select
particular toys or props that served to control the context of utterances.
Second, this technique is designed to elicit the structures under study, in
this case Determiner Phrases (DPs). As a result, the elicited production
technique allows for the collection of a more robust data sample within a
single experimental session (Crain & Thornton 1998). In particular, this
technique allows for the selection of toys with names that are overtly marked
for gender, for example, ending in –o for masculine, carr–o ‘car’ or –a for
10 First Language Acquisition in Spanish

feminine, cas–a ‘house,’ and toys with names that are not marked overtly
for gender, for example, ending on –e like lech–e ‘milk,’ or on a consonant,
like –n in león ‘lion.’ In this manner, the experimenter can explore the exis-
tence of initial values in child grammar for nominals that do not provide
any morphophonological clues for gender, that is, the gender value assigned
to these nominals is not overtly marked for gender. Moreover, the inclusion
of nominals that ended in a consonant sound, for example, león, provided
the opportunity to assess whether children marked plurality or not with the
allomorph –es. This was crucial given the fact that one of the characteristics
of the Puerto Rican dialect is the aspiration of the final –s. Notice that this
experimental control might have not been possible with the naturalistic
approach to data collection, as pointed out by Snyder (2007). He studied
the acquisition of DPs, using the data of Juan Linaza from CHILDES
(MacWhinney & Snow 1985), finding out that at age 1;7, Juan produced
only one instance of a DP. Hence, no conclusions were made regarding this
issue (Snyder 1995).
The second experimental approach used in the present study was a com-
prehension task. This task was designed to investigate children’s compre-
hension of number, that is, singular versus plural, separating the cognitive
ability to comprehend the difference between one and more than one
from their linguistic ability to produce the plural marker –(e)s. In this task,
the child did not have to respond verbally to a request but instead had
to select among a number of available objects, for example, one horse, two
dogs, or all the cats. This task points to a third advantage of the experimen-
tal approach: the evaluation of a particular scientific hypothesis, for exam-
ple, whether children distinguish between mass and count nominals in
their grammars. Nonetheless, experimental tasks have some drawbacks, as
stated by Crain and Thornton (1998). As with all experimental techniques,
the success of an experimental task relies on its careful design and develop-
ment, that is what might seem appropriate for the experimenter at the
designing stage might result in a task that is boring or uninteresting for
children. Second, this type of task is labor intensive, especially with children
around the ages of 2;0 years old. It relies on the active participation of the
children involved, hence a good rapport between the experimenter and
the child is vital to its success, as well as an interesting “game” so that chil-
dren are compelled to participate in the task. In this respect, the naturalis-
tic approach to data collection is easier to administer because it does not
require the subjects to attend to a particular task. However, the output in
terms of the robustness of the data is not comparable, as discussed above.
The rest of the chapter is presented in three Sections. Section 2.2 pro-
vides a description of the children who participated in the present research.
Experimental Methodology 11

Section 2.3 discusses the experimental tasks conducted to gather the acqui-
sition data discussed in this monograph. Finally, Section 2.4 describes how
the data were transcribed and coded and presents a summary of the data
coded by constituents under study.

2.2 Subjects

The data for the present study were extracted from the transcripts of
three monolingual Spanish-speaking children under the age of three: two
boys, Elián (2;1,18) and Alonso (2;2,29), and one girl, Londa (2;9,4); pseud-
onyms were given to all participants.1 In addition, the data of two other
children over the age of three—a girl, Diana (3;6,3) and a boy, Pepe
(4;3,10)—were introduced in discussion when interesting. These two older
children were included in the experiment for two reasons. First, their data
were included to assess the validity of the experimental tasks conducted for
this study, that is, to test if these older children were able to complete the
tasks. The three experimental tasks posed no problems for them, produc-
ing target-like responses in almost all cases. Hence, their data are not
analyzed in detail in the present monograph, but they are introduced into
the discussion when relevant. Second, their data were included to explore
whether children over the age of 3;0 already have acquired the agreement
system between determiners and nominals attested to in the literature
(Hernández-Pina 1984; Snyder 2007; Pizzutto & Caselli 1992 for Italian,
among others).
Subjects were recruited informally through family and friends both inside
and outside the metropolitan area of San Juan, Puerto Rico. Children were
chosen after a first visit or telephone contact with one of the parents. The
selection criteria were: (1) the linguistic development of the child, that is,
the children selected were at least at the two-word stage, because the main
focus of the present study is nominal agreement; and (2) that the children
were raised in a monolingual Spanish environment, that is, the childcare
provider and/or the home. Of the five children, only Pepe was enrolled in
some formal schooling, that being pre-Kindergarten. Table 2.1 summarizes
the information for the five subjects involved in the study.
Children completed the tasks in two sessions with the exception of Alonso,
whose first visit was part of the piloting phase of the study, and Pepe, a
4-year-old who was able to complete all the tasks in one session. Table 2.1
also shows that the mean length utterance (MLUw was calculated in words
instead of morphemes).2 First, there is no agreement in the literature
regarding what constitutes a morpheme in a highly inflected language
12 First Language Acquisition in Spanish

Table 2.1 Experimental subjects

Name Sex Age Number of sessions MLUw

Elián Male 2; 1,18 2 1.5

Alonso Male 2; 2, 29 3 1.9

Londa Female 2; 9, 4 2 2.2

Diana Female 3; 6, 3 2 3.1


Pepe Male 4; 3, 10 1 4.0

like Spanish, as Schnell de Acedo (1994) points out. Second, MLU in words
seems to be the preferred method for Romance languages (Bottari, Cipriani,
& Chilosi 1993/1994; Caselli, Leonard, Volterra, & Campagnoli 1993;
Pizzutto & Caselli 1992; Schnell de Acedo 1994; among others). By using
the same measurement, we can compare the results of the present study
with the findings of previous studies in Romance.

2.3 Collection Method

The children were recorded either at home or in the childcare facility they
attended. Video and audio were recorded during two 1-hour sessions per
child, with the exception of Pepe, who successfully completed all the tasks
in the first hour. Video recordings were made using a JVC-GR-DVM90 digi-
tal video camera, and audio was recorded with a Sony-ECM-ZS90 external
microphone placed in a floor stand. The camera was placed on a tripod on
the side of the room where the tasks were conducted. Audio recordings
were also made with a Sony-WM-D6C tape recorder, with the exception of
Elián; in his case, the childcare facility did not have more than one electri-
cal outlet available.

2.3.1 Experimental Tasks


Experimental sessions started after the recording equipment was in place.
Children were introduced to the puppet Monkey and invited to play freely
for a few minutes. Three experimental tasks were conducted for the pres-
ent study and presented to the children as follows: the comprehension task,
“The Animal House,” and the two elicited production tasks: “Time to Eat”
and “The Race.”
Experimental Methodology 13

2.3.1.1 Comprehension Task


This task addresses the attested issue of the plural marker (–e)s omission,
that is, the production of singular DPs to refer to plural referents. In par-
ticular, it explores whether children omit this marker for reasons outside
the language module; for example, they lack the cognitive/conceptual
development to understand the difference between one versus more than
one. This hypothesis makes the following predictions: (1) Children would
be able to respond to a singular object request, with one object, a cat for
example, and a request for more than one object, for example two dogs,
with more than one dog, if they understand the distinction between one
versus more than one, even though there is more than one object available;
(2) Children would respond in a random manner to all requests if they
have not yet developed this cognitive ability, that is, sometimes choosing
one object and other times many objects regardless of the request made to
them. Crucially, this task disassociates number comprehension, that is, one
versus more than one from number production, that is, number marking
with -(e)s. The protocol for the comprehension task protocol is illustrated in
Example 2.1.

Example 2.1
Protocol: “The Animal House”
Story: Monkey, the puppet, wants to introduce some of his friends,
other animals, to the child. (The animals are inside a bag.)
Monkey: ¿Quieres conocer a mis amiguitos? ‘Would you like to meet my
little friends?’
(The child responds by approaching Monkey or nodding. The
experimenter takes out the first set of animals, for example,
three dogs.)
Monkey: ¿Qué es eso? ‘What’s that (neuter)?’
Child: Un perro or perro. ‘A dog, or dog.’
Monkey: ¿Me prestas uno? or ¿Puedes encontrar un perro? ‘Would you lend
me one?’ or ‘Can you find a dog?’
(The experimenter makes sure that the three dogs are together
and visible to the child. In this fashion, the child is given the
option of selecting the appropriate number of animals accord-
ing to the puppet’s request. The task was repeated with the
other sets of animals.)

Once all the animals were taken out of the bag and Monkey’s requests
were made but not necessarily answered, especially by the younger subjects,
14 First Language Acquisition in Spanish

the experimenter took out a toy house big enough for the child to get
inside. This served as a break from the experimental situation and allowed
the children to play freely, getting in and out of the house. After a few min-
utes of play, the Comprehension Task was continued with the variation in
Example 2.2.

Example 2.2
Protocol: “The Animal House:” Follow-up
Monkey: Creo que los animales están cansados. Busca dos gatos, tienen que ir
a dormir a la casita. ‘I think the animals are tired. Find two cats;
they need to go to the little house to sleep.’
(As mentioned earlier, before making a request, the experi-
menter made sure that the animals, for example, cats, were
grouped together by type and in full view of the child.)
Child: (Finds the requested animal, for example, the two cats, and
takes them to the house to sleep.)

As in the case of the first version of this task, children’s comprehension


was assessed by their ability to find the appropriate number of animals
requested. This task variation was needed with the younger subjects because
their attention span was limited and they did not respond to all the requests
the first time they were made. In the case of the older children, only one
version of the Comprehension Task was required because they were respon-
sive to the requests. The task ended when all the requests were made or the
child was no longer receptive to the task.
Two criteria were used for the selection of the animals for this task. First,
the animals had to be common enough to be recognizable by small children;
therefore, if the children did not know the animals requested, it would have
affected the output of the task. Second, the noun type was also important to
assess comprehension. As discussed above, children were spontaneously
naming the animals when the experimenter took them out of the bag.
As a result, nominals canonically and non-canonically marked for gender
were included in the task to gather more production data, as illustrated in
Tables 2.2 and 2.3.
Table 2.2 presents a summary of the feminine nouns included in the
Comprehension Task. Even though an attempt was made to use a variety of
feminine nominals, it was very difficult to find feminine animal nouns
unmarked for gender that would be still recognizable to the children.
Nonetheless, non-canonically marked feminine nominals were introduced
Experimental Methodology 15

Table 2.2 Feminine nouns Comprehension Task


Ending –a Number of objects Request

Canonically vaca ‘cow’ 2: 1 clean/1 dirty La vaca sucia


marked nouns ‘the cow dirty’
(the dirty cow)

tortuga ‘turtle’ 2: 1 big/1 La tortuga grande


small ‘the turtle big’
(the big turtle)

mariposa ‘butterfly’ 4: 2 big/blue Las mariposas grandes


2 small/red ‘the butterflies big’
(the big butterflies)

Non-canonically Ending –e Number of objects Request


marked nouns
serpiente ‘snake’ 2: 1 big/1 small La serpiente grande
(culebra) ‘the snake big’
(the big snake)

through the additional toys presented to the children, for example, llave
‘key,’ leche ‘milk,’ and luz ‘light.’ For a detailed listing of the additional
props used in the experiment, refer to the section entitled Other Props.
Table 2.2 also shows that adjectives were added to the requests, such as in
the example of la vaca sucia ‘the dirty cow.’3 This was done for the purpose
of measuring the understanding of the adjectives in this first task because
they were going to be elicited in the task: “The Race.” This first task primed
the children regarding the differences among objects. The addition of
adjectives did not affect children’s response to the request, that is, when
children responded, they did it correctly in the majority of cases. In addi-
tion to the nominals or animals listed in Example 2.2, other less common
animals were presented to the children, given the fact that the study was
dealing with children of different age groups. For example, two giraffes
‘jirafa in Spanish,’ were shown to the children. Finally, I would like to point
out that even though some of the objects had two characteristics, for exam-
ple, small blue butterflies, only one adjective at the time was used in the
requests, in this case, the request was as follows: Could you find the small
butterflies or the blue butterflies?
Masculine nominals used in this task are summarized in Table 2.3.
In contrast to the feminine nouns presented in Table 2.2, it was easier to
find masculine nouns unmarked for gender that were recognizable to the
children, for example, pez ‘fish’ and león ‘lion.’
16 First Language Acquisition in Spanish

Table 2.3 Masculine nouns in Comprehension Task


Ending in –o Number of objects Request

Canonically perro ‘dog’ 3: white dogs Un perro blanco


marked nouns ‘one dog white’
(one white dog)

gato ‘cat’ 4: 3 white/1 brown Dos gatos blancos


‘two cats white’
(two white cats)

caballo ‘horse’ 4: 2 big/2 small Dos caballos grandes


‘two horses big’
(two big horses)

Non-canonically Ending in –e Number of objects Request


marked nouns
elefante ‘elephant’ 4: 3 blue/1 gray Los elefantes azules
‘the elephants blue’
(the blue elephants)

Ending in consonant Number of objects Request

pez ‘fish’ 3: different colors Los peces


‘the fishes’

león ‘lion’ 2: 1 big/ 1 small El león grande


‘the lion big’
(the big lion)

2.3.1.2 Elicited Production Tasks


The two elicited production tasks conducted in the present study were:
“Time to Eat,” and “The Race.” The goal of the “Time to Eat” task was to
determine if children could distinguish between mass and count nouns,
that is, pluralizing count but not mass nominals. In particular, this task
addresses the availability of an initial default value for number feature at
the beginning of the acquisition process, that is, whether the default value
is singular, as claimed by Spanish researchers such as Harris (1991), or
mass, as has been proposed by Chierchia (1998b). The translated protocol
for this task is illustrated in Example 2.3.

Example 2.3
Protocol: “Time to Eat”
Story: Puppet tells the child that it is time to eat, to find an
animal that she thinks might be hungry.
Monkey: Es hora de comer. ¿Tú sabes quién tiene hambre? ‘It is time to
eat. Do you know who is hungry?’
Experimental Methodology 17

Child: El caballo or caballo. ‘The horse or horse.’


(Children usually uttered the name of the animal that
was hungry while they were looking for it.)
Experimenter: Déjame ver qué tengo aquí de comer. ‘Let me see what
I have here to eat.’
(Experimenter said as she was taking out the first set of
food items, one mass and one count, for example, two
piles of rice and four flowers.)
Hungry animal: ¡Tengo hambre, tengo hambre! ¿Qué como? ‘I am hungry,
I am hungry! What should I eat?’
(Food items would be placed in front of the child to
make a selection, for example, rice and flowers.)
Child: Arroz or flores. ‘Rice’ or ‘flowers.’

In this task, as the experimenter took out a food item, children instinctively
tried to identify it and name it. If they did not say what the item was, the
experimenter would take one of the items in her hand and label it for the
child, for example, esto es arroz ‘this [neuter] is rice,’ with one of the two
piles of rice in her hand. Once the child had identified the food choices,
she would make a food selection for the “hungry animal,” for example, rice.
On the one hand, if the child has a default value in her grammar of “mass”
she is expected to produce all the nouns in the singular number because
mass nominals are not pluralized. On the other hand, if the child’s gram-
mar distinguishes between mass nominals (not pluralizable) versus count
nominals (pluralizable), the child should produce singular mass nominals
and plural count nominals. Crucially, mass nouns were presented in two
sets, for example, two piles of rice. In this way, the experiment gave the
children the option of pluralizing mass nominals if the distinction between
mass and count nominals was not present in their grammar.
The task proceeded with the animal (manipulated by the experimenter)
eating from the other food group, for example, flowers, and complaining
that the food tasted bad, as shown in Example 2.4.

Example 2.4
Protocol: “Time to eat” (Continuation)
Hungry animal: Ah eso sabe mal. ¿Qué comí? ‘Oh that tastes bad! What did
I eat?’
Child: Flores. ‘Flowers’ (four flowers).
Hungry animal: ¿Flores? ¿Qué como? ¡Tengo hambre! ‘Flowers? What should
I eat? I’m hungry!’
Child: Arroz or arroces. ‘Rice’ or ‘*Rices’ (two piles of rice).
18 First Language Acquisition in Spanish

The child was expected to produce the count nominal in the plural form,
for example, flores ‘flowers’ to mark the distinction that in her grammar
count nominals are pluralized. Finally, the animal would eat the rice and
comment on how good it tasted: Eso sabe bien, ¿qué comí? ‘This tastes good,
what did I eat?’ The child was expected to say arroz ‘rice’ and not arroces
‘rices’ if there was a difference between the mass and count nominals in her
grammar. If the child did not respond, the experimenter asked the child
what did the animal eat, ¿qué comió? The same routine was repeated with
several food items since some of the children would identify one item of the
mass/count set but not the other. The task would end after all the food
items were “eaten” and responses were obtained from the child or when the
child was no longer interested in this particular game. The food sets used
in this task are listed in Example 2.5.

Example 2.5
Mass and Count Nominals

Mass Nominals Count Nominals


2 piles of rice 4 flowers
2 chicken legs 2 bananas
2 bunches of grass 4 plates
2 piles of hair 2 balls
*2 bottles of milk 2 oranges
*2 cups *2 chairs

In this task what was important was the pairing of two different kinds of
nouns, for example, mass versus count, so no strict order was followed
regarding the pairing of two specific items, for example, hair was paired
with bananas or flowers, for instance. The items in Example 2.5 marked
with an asterisk (*) were introduced at the end of the task. These items
were presented to the child in the following situations: (1) when the child
did not respond to some of the items listed in Example 2.5; or (2) when the
child had completed the task but was still interested in the feeding game. In
the case of the two bottles of milk, the procedure followed was to make the
animal drink first from one bottle and then immediately from the second
bottle. Then the child was asked: ¿Qué tomó? ‘What did the animal drink?’
The expected answer was leche ‘milk’ or la leche ‘the milk’ even though there
were two bottles given. In the case of the cups, the children immediately
pretended to be drinking something. In this context, the experimenter
told the child to drink from the two cups and then asked her: ¿qué tomaste?
Experimental Methodology 19

‘What did you drink?’ Children’s responses were agua ‘water,’ café ‘coffee.’
None of the children pluralized these particular nouns, even though the
possibility is available in the target grammar, that is, two cups of water/cof-
fee, two bottles of milk. Finally, another variation to the main protocol of
this task was added to make it more interesting for the children, “Time to
Sit Down” (see Example 2.6). Like in the other two versions of the task, two
choices were given to the child as the seating place for the doll, for exam-
ple, a pair of chairs or two bunches of grass.

Example 2.6
Protocol: “Time to sit down”
Story: A human doll (or the child’s favorite animal) indicated to
the child that he was tired and needed to sit down.
Doll: Estoy cansado. ¿Dónde me siento? ‘I am tired, where can
I sit?’
Child: En la silla or silla. ‘On the chair or chair.’
(Doll sits on the grass and complains.)
Doll: ¡Au! ¡Esto pica! ¿Dónde me senté? ‘Ouch! This is itchy! Where did
I sit?’
Child: En la hierba/*hierbas ‘On the grass/*grasses’
Doll: Oh, me equivoqué. ¿Dónde me siento? ‘Oh I made a mistake. Where
should I sit?’
Child: En la silla. ‘On the chair.’
(Doll would sit first on one of the two chairs and would fall
down because it was too small for him; then the experimenter
would put the two chairs together indicating to the child that
two will hold the doll.)
Doll: Esto es más cómodo. ‘This is more comfortable.’

In general, children seemed to enjoy this variation to the task, especially


when the doll would complain about the itchy grass.
The second elicited production task carried out for this study was “The
Race.” This task was designed to elicit DPs with an attributive adjective to
explore the nature of agreement relations between the nouns and their
modifiers in terms of the features, gender and number. In this task, the
experimenter took out two sets of toys, varying in size, color, or degree of
cleanliness. For example, four cars were used: two big blue ones and two
red small ones. If the child did not identify the objects, for example,
cars, the experimenter would ask her: ¿qué es eso? ‘What’s that?’ Once the
object(s) was/were identified overtly, the experimenter using the puppet
20 First Language Acquisition in Spanish

told the child that it would be fun to have a race to the house. Usually the
children got very excited about participating in a competition. Before the
race took place, the child was asked to choose which vehicles she would like
to drive, as shown in Example 2.7.

Example 2.7
Protocol: “The Race”
Story: Monkey likes races and he likes to win.
Experimenter: ¿Quieres hacer una carrera para ver quién gana? ‘Do you want
to have a race with Monkey to see who wins?’
Child: Sí, yo voy a ganar. ‘Yes, I am going to win.’
Experimenter: Sí, pero primero tienes que escoger qué carros vas a manejar.
‘Yes, but before you have to choose which cars you are
going to drive.’
(Experimenter points at the two different sets of cars, for
example, big vs small.)
Child (expected response): Los grandes/los carros grandes or los chiquitos/
los carros chiquitos. ‘The big ones/the big cars or the small
ones/the small cars.’
Monkey: En su marca, listos. . .¡fuera! ‘On your mark, get set, go!’
(The race takes place, and then the experimenter asked
the child who won.)
Experimenter: ¿Quién ganó? ‘Who won?’
Child (expected response): Los carros grandes or los grandes. ‘The big cars
or the big ones.’
(Then the task was repeated with other vehicles, for
example, motorcycles and trains.)

The production of attributive adjectives from these children was very lim-
ited, especially in the case of the younger ones, who preferred to point at
the vehicles when asked to choose between the two sets. When the younger
children did not produce the adjective after several trials, the experimenter
would establish a contrast between the two sets of objects as follows: Mira, yo
tengo los grandes. ‘Look, I have the big [ones].’ In some cases this phrase was
enough to trigger a response from the child like: Y yo tengo los chiquitos. ‘And
I have the small [ones].’ However, if the child did not respond, the experi-
menter followed up with the question: ¿y tú qué tienes? ‘And what do you
have?’ As in this example, the experimenter would always try to choose the
unmarked adjective, for example, grand–e instead of chiquit–o, to limit the
information given to the child in terms of the agreement needed. As stated
Experimental Methodology 21

earlier for the other tasks, the nominals selected for this task had to be
objects recognizable to the children and they have to provide a variety of
endings, that is, canonically marked and non-canonically marked for gen-
der, as its goal was to explore the nature of the agreement system in chil-
dren’s grammar. In particular, I want to explore whether children acquiring
nominal agreement Spanish are creating agreement relations based on the
clues overtly on the morphology, or there is evidence of an underlying
agreement system. As a result, an attempt was made to select a variety of
noun types and modifying adjectives. Masculine nominals included in this
task are listed in Table 2.4.
As illustrated in Table 2.4 only one overtly marked masculine nominal
was used as a prop for this task, for example, carros ‘cars’ since there were

Table 2.4 Masculine nouns for “The Race”


Ending in –o Number of objects Possible Determiner Phrases

Canonically carr–os ‘cars’ 4: 2 big/blue los (carros) grandes/azules


marked nouns 2 small/red ‘the cars big/blue’
(the big/blue cars)
los (carros) chiquitos/rojos
‘the cars small/red’
(the small/red cars)

Non-canonically Ending in –e Number of objects Possible Determiner Phrases


marked nouns
nen–e ‘boy’ 2: 1 clean el (nene) limpio
1 dirty ‘the boy clean’
(the clean boy)
el (nene) sucio
‘the (boy) dirty [one]’
(the dirty boy)

Ending in consonant Number of objects Possible Determiner Phrases

avión ‘airplane’ 2: 1 big el (avión) grande


1 small ‘the airplane big’
(the big airplane)
el (avión) chiquito
‘the airplane small’
(the small airplane)

tren ‘train’ 4: 2 happy los (trenes) felices


2 sad ‘the (trains) happy’
(the happy trains)
los (trenes) tristes
‘the (trains) sad’
(the sad trains)
22 First Language Acquisition in Spanish

enough of these nominals elicited in the other tasks. Nonetheless, an overtly


article marked for gender was used, in this case los ‘the [masculine/plural].’4
In addition, two dolls were used as participants in the race: nene ‘boy,’ a
clean one and a dirty one, as illustrated in Table 2.4. This nominal provided
an additional unmarked masculine nominal to the experiment since it ends
in the vowel –e. Feminine nominals selected for this task are summarized in
Table 2.5.
In this task, it was also difficult to find feminine nominals (for vehicles)
that were unmarked for gender and that would be recognizable to the chil-
dren. However, adding additional props that were not vehicles solved this

Table 2.5 Feminine nouns for “The Race”


Ending in –a Number of objects Possible Determiner Phrases

Canonically motora ‘motorcycle’ 2: 1 blue la (motora) azul


marked nouns 1 red ‘the (motorcycle blue) [one]’
(the blue motorcycle)
la (motora) roja
‘the (motorcycle) red [one]’
(the red motorcycle)

guagua 4: 2 big las (guaguas) grandes


‘school bus’ 2 small ‘the (buses) big [ones]’
(the big buses)
guagua 2: 1 black las (guaguas) chiquitas
‘pick up truck’ 1 blue ‘the (buses) small [ones]’
(the small buses)
la (guagua) negra
‘the (bus) black [one]’
(the black bus)
la (guagua) azul
‘the (bus) blue [one]’
(the blue bus)

nena ‘girl’ 2: 1 combed la (nena) limpia


1 uncombed ‘the (girl) clean [one]’
(the clean girl)
la (nena) sucia
‘the (girl) dirty [one]’
(the dirty girl)

Ending in –e Number of objects Possible Determiner Phrases

Non-canonically llave ‘key’ 2: 1 big la (llave) grande


marked nouns 1 small ‘the (key) big [one]’
(the big key)
la (llave) chiquita
‘the (key) small {one]’
(the small key)
Experimental Methodology 23

issue, for example, llave ‘key,’ as can be seen in Table 2.5. As with the mas-
culine nominals, the vehicle choice made by the child would determine the
agreement pattern required. For example, if the child chose to drive la
motora roja ‘the red (fem/sg) motorcycle,’ then she would have to create an
agreement relation between the nominal motora and an overtly marked
adjective, roja.

2.3.1.3 Other Props


Additional toys that were not part of a particular task were also introduced
to the experiment. Some toys were introduced to balance the overall nomi-
nals to be elicited, like in the case of feminine nominals unmarked for
gender, for example, no feminine nominal unmarked for gender was found
that referred to an animal (“The Animal House”) or to a vehicle (“The
Race”). As a result, the following toys were introduced to complete those
two tasks: llave ‘key,’ leche ‘milk,’ and luz ‘light.’ These toys were worked into
the tasks, for example, the keys were introduced either to open the house
or one of the vehicles, while the milk was introduced in the feeding activity.
In other instances, additional objects made tasks more interesting for the
children by adding variety to the “game,” or served to attract children’s
attention again, for example, wagons for the trains, a boat that attached to
one of the trucks and two small birdhouses.

2.4 Transcription and Coding

The data were transcribed orthographically due to the Spanish language


transparency with an almost direct correspondence between its orthogra-
phy and its phonetics. Since the present monograph focuses on the vowel
and consonantal endings, there was no need to transcribe the data phoneti-
cally. Nonetheless, special attention was given to the marking of the num-
ber feature, namely the final –(e)s. One of the characteristics of the Puerto
Rican Spanish dialect is the aspiration of the –s in final position. When it
was clear that children were producing an aspiration in lieu of an –s, this
sound was marked in the transcription with the phonetic symbol [h].
All the utterances of the three children and the experimenter were tran-
scribed, except interruptions to the task made by other children or other
adults. The data extracted from the transcripts of the three children con-
sisted of 893 utterances involving a noun, a determiner, or an adjective. As
a result, the data include attributive adjectives (adjectives within DP) as well
as predicative ones (adjectives outside the DP). Predicative adjectives were
24 First Language Acquisition in Spanish

included in the analysis for comparison purposes, that is, to examine if the
agreement patterns children created with these adjectives were similar to
those established with attributive ones. Finally, the data also include the
analysis of the agreement patterns (i.e., number and gender features) of
demonstrative pronouns and third person clitics. The structures under
study were entered into an Excel spreadsheet to be coded, as illustrated in
Example 2.8.

Example 2.8
Coding System
a. Utterance: actual child production
b. Context
c. Child behavior: what the child is doing at the moment of the
utterance
d. Structure
e. Agreement: Target-like/Non-Target-like
f. Noun marking: Canonical/Non-canonical

All utterances pertaining to this study were coded, along with the context
in which they occurred and what the child was doing when she uttered a
particular structure. This last piece of information was vital for the analysis
of the acquisition of the number feature, especially when it came to deter-
mining if there was agreement between the referent and the nominal
produced by the child. Structures were coded as: (1) Bare Noun Phrases;
(2) Determiner Phrase (DP), including structures with full determiners
and structures with a Monosyllabic Place Holder; (3) DPs with an adjective,
including structures with an overt nominal and those in which the nominal
was non-overt; (4) Adjective Phrase; (5) Determiner, referring to demon-
strative pronouns produced in isolation; (6) Other, including third person
clitics. Furthermore, the agreement relations were coded as target-like or
non-target-like in reference to number and gender. Finally, nominal end-
ings were coded as canonical, that is, –o and –a, and non-canonical, that
is, –e and final consonant sounds, to examine if there was any relation
between the information encoded in the nominal endings and the agree-
ment relations children created.
The following were excluded: repetitions of immediately preceding
utterances (as well as the child’s immediate exact repetitions of her own
utterances, for example, caballo, caballo ‘horse, horse,’ (Alonso); songs and
formulaic expressions. Furthermore, ambiguous cases were excluded from
the analysis. Ambiguity was found with regard to Monosyllabic Place Holders
Experimental Methodology 25

(i.e., vowels that appeared in front of the nouns; Bottari et al. 1993/1994),
in particular a and e as shown in Example 2.9.

Example 2.9
(a) A cashita ‘to house’/‘a house or the house’ (Alonso)
(b) ee mío ‘(It) is mine’ / ‘the mine’ (the one that belongs to me)
(Elián)

As illustrated in Example 2.9(a), vowel a can be interpreted in some cases


as the preposition a, for example, A cashita ‘to house,’ as a DP in which a is
either determiner una ‘a,’ or la ‘the,’ for example, a cashitaa ‘a/one house
or the house.’ Example 2.9(b) shows the ambiguity present in the case of
vowel e. This vowel can be interpreted as the determiner el ‘the,’ agreeing
with the masculine singular feature of the emphatic possessive pronoun mío
‘mine,’ or can also be interpreted as the third person/singular form of the
copula, for example, es mío ‘[it] is mine.’
Another case of ambiguity resided with the demonstrative pronouns and
adjectives. In some cases it was not possible to determine if a demonstrative
was used in isolation or as a compressed form containing other constitu-
ents. Specifically, in the case of the short forms of these demonstratives
produced by Alonso, for example, se for ese ‘that,’ it was impossible to deter-
mine in many cases if the short form was used only as a demonstrative, as in
se carito ‘that little car’ or as the compressed form of the demonstrative ese
and the copula es, for example, se e carito *‘that is little car.’

2.4.1 The Data


The data for the present study consist of 893 utterances containing a noun,
a determiner, and/or an adjective. In addition, gender agreement was
also analyzed in the production of demonstratives and third person object
pronouns. Table 2.6 summarizes the distribution of the utterances included
in the present analysis.
Table 2.6 shows that overall the most common (44 percent) utterance
in the data involved the production of Bare Noun Phrases. Moreover, an
analysis of the utterance distribution for each child also reveals that all
three children produced more Bare Noun Phrases than any other type of
constituents under study. Chi-squared results of the comparison between
the production of Bare Noun Phrases and each of the other types of con-
stituents under study resulted in chi-squared values that were larger than
the critical value 3.84.
26 First Language Acquisition in Spanish

Table 2.6 Utterance distribution


Elián (2;1,18) Alonso (2;2,29) Londa (2;9,4) Total (%)

Bare noun phrases 76 (55%) 105 (41%) 213 (43%) 394 (44)

(Full) Determiner noun phrases 8 (6%) 30 (12%) 56 (11%) 94 (11)

Monosyllabic place holders 38 (27%) 52 (20%) 12 (3%) 102 (11)

Demonstrative pronouns 10 (7%) 27 (10%) 128 (25%) 165 (18)

Clitics (third person) 4 (3%) 30 (12%) 9 (2%) 43 (5)

Attributive adjectives 2 (1%) 1 (1%) 15 (3%) 18 (2)

Predicative adjectives 1 (1%) 10 (4%) 66 (13%) 77 (9)

Total 139 (100%) 255 (100%) 499 (100%) 893 (100)

Regarding the production of Determiner Phrases (DPs), Table 2.6 dis-


plays an even distribution between full DPs and Monosyllabic Place Holder-
DPs (Bottari et al. 1993/1994), with 94 and 102 utterances respectively,
each accounting for 11 percent of the utterances. However, an individual
(child) analysis of the utterance distribution for these two types of DPs
yields different results. On the one hand, the data show that the two smaller
children Elián and Alonso produced significantly higher proportions of
nominals with a MPH than with a full determiner, that is for Elián χ2 = 19.56
(p < .01); for Alonso χ2 = 5.90 (p = .015). On the other hand, the propor-
tions for Londa (the child with the higher MLUw in this group) present
the opposite results, with a significantly higher production of full DPs
than Monosyllabic Place Holder-DPs (χ2 = 31.1, p < .01). This issue will be
addressed in Chapter 5.
Regarding adjective production, Table 2.6 indicates that the three chil-
dren produced adjectives in attributive and predicative contexts, with a
higher production of adjectives in the latter. Moreover, the overall produc-
tion of adjectives by Elián and Alonso is rather limited in comparison to
that of Londa.
In addition, Table 2.6 illustrates the overall production of demonstrative
pronouns. In particular, the two younger children’s production was consid-
erably less than the production of the older child, Londa, as in the case
of the adjective production (χ2 = 147.9, d.f. = 2, p < .01). Finally, Table 2.6
shows that Alonso produced more than three times the number of clitics
than the other two children, that is, Alonso (30), Londa (9), and Elián (4).
Chapter 3

Gender Agreement

3.1 Agreement

Spanish nouns possess at least three features: gender, number (the focus of
this monograph), and definiteness. Gender and number are marked mor-
phologically on the noun in the form of affixes, for example, –a for femi-
nine as in cas–a ‘house’ and –o for masculine as in castill–o ‘castle,’ whereas
definiteness is marked by a prenominal determiner, for example, la casa
‘the house’ or el castillo ‘the castle,’ that also encodes the gender and num-
ber features. In addition, gender and number agreement is also marked
overtly on constituents such as attributive and predicative adjectives and
demonstrative and object pronouns. Koehn (1994) points out the complexity
learners face in the acquisition of these two features, stating that it involves
at least four tasks: (1) the child has to develop the underlying semantic
concept for number, that is, the distinction between one and more than
one; (2) the child has to recognize that gender and number are systemati-
cally encoded on specific syntactic categories, that is, the corresponding
grammatical features have to arise; (3) the appropriate morphophonologi-
cal realizations of these features have to be acquired; and finally, (4) the
appropriate agreement paradigms have to be learned. This chapter exam-
ines the acquisition of gender agreement, and it is organized in three major
sections. First, Section 3.2 presents an overview of agreement in Spanish,
with special focus on gender. Section 3.3 discusses some of the previous
studies on the acquisition of gender in Spanish. Finally, Section 3.4 focuses
on experimental findings for the present research.

3.2 Agreement in Spanish Determiner Phrases

Agreement can be defined as a relationship that is established between


two or more constituents. This relationship is based on the repetition of
the content of a morphological feature, which can be overtly marked or
28 First Language Acquisition in Spanish

not and can be expressed (or not expressed) with the same phonetic
ending or suffix (Martínez 1999). One of the most salient characteristics
of the Spanish language is the redundancy present in terms of its agree-
ment morphology, that is, all nominal modifiers and determiners must
agree in gender and number with the noun with which they enter into
an agreement relationship. For example, in la casa amarilla ‘the (fem/sg)
house (fem/sg) yellow (fem/sg)’ (the yellow house), the nominal casa
shares the same word marker –a as the adjective amarill–a and the deter-
miner la.
Agreeing constituents within Spanish Determiner Phrases (DPs) include
determiners and attributive adjectives. In Spanish, the determiner class
encompasses: (a) the definite articles, for example el ‘the (masc/sg)’ or la
‘the (fem/sg)’ and their corresponding plural forms for masculine and
feminine respectively: los and las; (b) the indefinites articles, for example,
un ‘a (masc/sg)’ and una ‘a (fem/sg);’ and (c) quantifiers such as poco/a
‘few (masc/fem/sg),’ and their plural forms pocos/pocas and todo/a ‘all
(masc/fem/sg)’ and the corresponding plurals todos/todas. In addition,
demonstrative adjectives are included in the determiner class for the
purpose of this study: este/esta ‘this (masc/fem/sg),’ ese/esa ‘that (masc/
fem/sg),’ and aquel/aquella ‘that over there (masc/fem/sg)’ and their cor-
responding plural forms: estos/estas ‘these,’ esos/esas ‘those,’ and aquellos/
aquellas ‘those over there.’ In general, determiners precede the noun in
Spanish, and they play a crucial role in terms of gender agreement when
they occur in DPs such as la noche ‘the (fem/sg) night (unm/sg).’ In this
example, the nominal noche is not marked for gender overtly; therefore the
only overt evidence of the feminine feature of the nominal is encoded in
the determiner la. In addition, the monograph will also discuss agreement
patterns that children established in the production of demonstrative
pronouns. These pronouns, like their adjectival counterparts, have to
agree in gender and number with the noun they represent.
Table 3.1 shows how each set of demonstrative pronouns, that is, este ‘this
(one),’ ese ‘that (one),’ aquel ‘that (one) over there,’ has a unique morpho-
logical representation according to the values it encodes for the gender
and number features. For example, the demonstrative esta ‘this (one),’
encodes the feminine/singular features whereas the demonstrative ese ‘that
(one),’ encodes the masculine/singular features. Moreover, this paradigm
also includes one of a few examples of the “neuter” gender in the Spanish
language, for example, esto ‘this (abstract idea or situation)’ (see discussion
in Section 3.3).
Gender Agreement 29

Table 3.1 Demonstrative pronouns


Agreement paradigm

Singular Plural

Masculine Este ‘this’ Estos ‘these’


Ese ‘that’ Esos ‘those’
Aquel ‘that over there’ Aquellos ‘those over there’

Feminine Esta Estas


Esa Esas
Aquella Aquellas

Neuter Esto
Eso
Aquello

These pronominals were included in the analysis because they also serve
to assess the agreement system available to the children under study, as
shown in Example 3.1.

Example 3.1
Quiero esta ‘(I) want this [one] (fem/sg).’

In Example 3.1, the demonstrative pronoun esta agrees with the feminine
singular features of the nominal it represents. In the agreement analysis of
these pronouns, the context of the utterance becomes of utmost impor-
tance in determining the grammaticality of a particular token.
Another class of agreeing constituents within DP is the qualifying adjec-
tives. Adjectives in Spanish, like determiners, obligatorily agree with the
nouns they modify in gender and number, for example, la casa roja ‘the
(fem/sg) house (fem/sg) red (fem/sg)’ (the red house). Most adjectives
are overtly marked for gender, expressed morphologically with the –o end-
ing in the masculine and the –a ending in the feminine (Harris 1991). But
there are also adjectives that lack a word marker, and they are invariable in
both genders, for example, el gato inteligente ‘the cat intelligent (masc/sg)’
(the intelligent cat) versus la gata inteligente ‘the cat intelligent (fem/sg).’
In this example, the adjective inteligente has the same morphology for the
male and female cat. Spanish qualifying adjectives in attributive position
usually occurred in postnominal position, for example, la manzana roja ‘the
apple red.’ The prenominal position, although possible, entails a change in
30 First Language Acquisition in Spanish

the meaning of the DP, for example, la roja manzana ‘the red apple,’ in
which the redness of the apple is emphasized (Demonte 1999).1 The pres-
ent research focuses on postnominal adjectives, the unmarked position for
Spanish.2
In addition to the determiners and attributive adjectives, the present
monograph will also include a discussion of other constituents produced by
the children under study, which are also marked overtly for agreement but
are not necessarily within DP, such as predicative adjectives. Predicative
adjectives in Spanish, as in English, occur with the copula to be. However, in
Spanish the copula has two representations, ser and estar, with contrasting
semantic interpretations, as illustrated in Example 3.2.

Example 3.2
(a) Pedro es gordo ‘Peter is fat’
(b) Pedro está gordo ‘Peter is fat’

In Example 3.2(a) the adjective gordo ‘fat,’ is interpreted as a stable or


permanent characteristic of the subject Pedro, whereas in Example 3.2(b)
the adjective is interpreted as an episodic or changeable characteristic of
the subject, that is, Pedro has gained weight. This contrast will not be
addressed in the present monograph but a comparison between the agree-
ment patterns children establish in this structure versus those of the attribu-
tive one is presented.
Finally, the data analysis will also include a discussion of the agreement
patterns with clitic pronouns produced by the children. Clitic pronouns,

Table 3.2 Clitic pronouns


Agreement Paradigm

Direct object Indirect object

Singular
1st person Me ‘me’ Me ‘me’
2nd person Te ‘you’ Te ‘you’
3rd person Lo ‘it (masc)’ Le ‘him/her’
La ‘it (fem)’

Plural
1st person Nos ‘us’ Nos ‘us’
2nd person Os ‘you’ Os ‘you’
3rd person Los ‘them (masc)’ Les ‘them’ (masc/fem)’
Las ‘them (fem)’
Gender Agreement 31

traditionally known as object pronouns, present overt agreement in the


third person form, although not as rich as in the case of demonstrative pro-
nouns, for example, Damelo ‘Give it (masc/sg) to me.’ Table 3.2 illustrates
the agreement paradigm for clitic pronouns.
Table 3.2 shows a morphological contrast between direct object pro-
nouns versus indirect object pronouns; that is, third person direct object
pronouns mark both gender and number overtly whereas indirect object
pronouns only mark number. Nonetheless, the analysis of these pronouns
helps to create a clearer picture of the underlying agreement system as
a whole.

3.2.1 Gender Agreement


Ambadiang (1999) explains that although number contrast (singular vs
plural) in Spanish tends to receive a unique morphological expression (the
presence or absence of [–e]s, in the case of gender (masculine vs feminine),3
the contrast is of a diverse nature, involving several factors, including
semantic, phonological, and morphological. First, gender assignment can
be determined by semantic factors. In the case of animate nominals, it is
based on the sex of the referent (male vs female), for example, hermano/
hermana ‘brother/sister,’ whereas in the case of inanimate nominals, it is
based on the structure of the lexicon and the lexical classes in which they
are distributed, for example, (a) names of languages are masculine: el espa-
ñol, ‘the (masc) Spanish (masc) (language)’; (b) names of letters are femi-
nine: la p ‘the (fem) (letter) p.’ However, other factors are involved in the
gender assignment of inanimate nominals. One of these factors, according
to Ambadiang, is the phonology of the noun, for example, nominals that
start with a stressed a–: el atlas ‘the (masc) atlas (masc),’ el hambre ‘the
(masc) hunger (fem).’ In these examples, the phonology of the noun
determines the use of the masculine article, regardless of the gender of
the nominal involved, that is, in these examples atlas is masculine whereas
hambre is feminine.
Finally, a third factor involved in determining the gender of inanimate
nominals is morphology. Ambadiang points out the strong tendency
present in the Spanish language to associate certain nominal endings with
a particular value of the gender feature, for example, el libro ‘the (masc)
book’ versus la libra ‘the (fem) pound.’ Harris (1991) asserts that these
morphological ending associations (i.e., –a for feminine and –o for mascu-
line) are not statistically significant but preferred associations between
32 First Language Acquisition in Spanish

these Word Markers (WMs) or endings and a particular gender. He states


that none of the word markers “occur always and only” (Harris 1991, 28)
with a particular meaning, nor any gender with any form, as illustrated in
Example 3.3 for WMs –o and –a.

Example 3.3
Marker Gender Example
(a) –o masc. only muchacho ‘boy’
fem only mano ‘hand’
masc or fem testigo ‘witness’
none dentro ‘inside’
(b) –a fem only muchacha ‘girl’
masc only día ‘day’
masc or fem turista ‘tourist’
none fuera ‘outside’

Example 3.3 illustrates Harris’ point that these two markers (–o and –a) can
be attached to nominals of either gender, such as muchacho/muchacha, as
well as to other constituents, such as the adverbs dentr–o ‘inside’ and fuer–a
‘outside.’ In addition, not all Spanish nominals have a WM; such nominals
typically end in –e or in a single coronal consonant and can be of either
gender, as illustrated in Example 3.4.

Example 3.4
Gender Nominal
(a) masc. only padre ‘father’
sol ‘sun’
(b) fem. only madre ‘mother’
col ‘cabbage’
(c) masc. or fem. amante ‘lover’
mártir ‘martyr’
(d) none delante ‘ahead’
atrás ‘behind’

In Example 3.4, the sequences padr–, madr– in 3.4(a) and 3.4(b), and
the –nt– in amant– in 3.4(c) are not permissible codas in Spanish, therefore
an epenthetic –e appears after otherwise unsyllabifiable segments (Harris
1991; Klein 1989; among others). On the other hand, words such as col, sol,
and atrás are syllabifiable without the addition of a final –e. Nonetheless,
Gender Agreement 33

Harris admits to the availability of certain regularities in gender assignment,


which he presents as a three-way separation of words by WMs: (1) inner core,
(2) outer core, and (3) residue. The inner core contains words in which the
suffix –o is invariably attached to masculine stems and the suffix –a to femi-
nine stems, in words of both animate and inanimate reference, for exam-
ple, perr–o ‘dog (masc),’ cas–a ‘house (fem).’ The outer core contains what
Harris calls slightly deviant cases; it includes words with no WMs, for exam-
ple, those ending in the vowel –e, such as lech–e ‘milk.’ Finally, the residue
contains all words not present in the core. The largest single class in the
residue comprises masculine words that take the suffix –a, such as program–a
‘program (masc).’ In contrast, there is only one example of an invariable
feminine noun with the WM –o in common use, according to Harris: mano
‘hand.’4
Teschner and Russell’s (1984) study brings support to the idea of a strong
relation between certain WMs and the feminine and masculine genders.
The authors conducted a gender pattern study using an unpublished,
inversed dictionary of Spanish that contained all of the words listed in the
18th (1956) edition of the Diccionario de la Real Academia Española. They
found that the word marker –a was overwhelmingly typical of feminine-
gendered nouns, with 96.3 percent of all Ns ending in this marker being
feminine, and nominals with the WM –o being 99.87 percent masculine.
Teschner and Russell also present statistical data regarding other nominal
endings. Specifically, they found in their study significant correlations
between certain final word endings and gender, as shown in Example 3.5.

Example 3.5
Gender Ending %
(a) Feminine –a 96.30
–d 97.57
(b) Masculine –o 99.87
–l 97.85
–r 98.55
–i 93.13
–u 95.10
(c) Either –n 51.61 (Fem)/48.39 (Masc)
–z 61.63 (Fem)/38.37 (Masc)
–s 42.68 (Fem)/57.32 (Masc)

The statistical data presented in Example 3.5 points to the existence of


several patterns regarding gender morphology. First, nominals ending in
34 First Language Acquisition in Spanish

an –a or –d are overwhelmingly feminine, as shown in Example 3.5(a),


whereas nominals ending in the vowels –o, –i and –u and the consonants –l
and –r are overwhelmingly masculine, as shown in Example 3.5(b). Second,
in Example 3.5(c) we can see that consonantal endings –n, –z and –s appear
with nominals of either gender, with –z showing a slight preference for the
feminine gender. Interestingly, the examples in Example 3.5(c) point to
the fact that the majority of word endings in Spanish are associated with the
masculine gender, making feminine the marked value for this feature.
Moreover, under the assumption that these correlations are true, they pre-
dict that children would have more problems acquiring the gender of nom-
inals in Example 3.5(c) than the nominals in Examples 3.5(a) and 3.4(b);
that is, the morphophonological cues provided in the word endings of
Examples 3.5(c) will show no consistency regarding gender because these
nominals can be of either gender, for example, la síntesi–s ‘the (fem) syn-
thesis’ versus el análisi–s ‘the (masc) analysis’.
The discussion on the morphological patterns and their association with
a particular gender value raises the issue of the availability of an initial value
for the gender feature. In the next section, the topic of default values in
child language is discussed.

3.2.2 A Default Value for Gender


Traditionally it has been proposed that the unmarked value for the gender
feature in Spanish grammar is masculine (Harris 1991). Support for this
proposal is found in Teschner and Russell’s (1984) findings on the over-
whelming dominance of the masculine gender in the Spanish language.
In particular, the authors conducted an inversed dictionary study finding
that the majority of morphological endings in Spanish are associated with
the masculine gender.
In terms of acquisition, a child acquiring Spanish gender agreement has
to choose between the two values of this feature, masculine or feminine,
because it is not possible to produce a DP in Spanish without marking its
gender, for example *cas– instead of la casa ‘the (fem) house (fem).’ This
raises a question about the availability of a default value for the gender
feature. This would be reflected in the acquisition process as overgeneral-
izations of one of the possible values of this feature. Some of the previous
studies on the acquisition of Spanish have indicated the preponderance
of masculine DPs at the beginning stages of the acquisition process and
some have pointed to the fact that children’s non-target-like production in
terms of gender involves the overgeneralization of the masculine value (see
Section 3.3).
Gender Agreement 35

In this monograph, I address the issue of an initial default value for gen-
der from a different perspective, proposing that children’s production of
feminine nominals with masculine determiners or masculine pronominals
to refer to feminine referents is in fact part of an acquisition strategy in
order to converge. Similar proposals on the availability of default values
in child language have been advanced in the literature by Phillips (1996)
and Borer and Rohrbacher (1997) to account for root infinitives (RIs) in
child language. In particular, these researchers propose that the produc-
tion of RIs is target-like in children’s grammar as a default verbal form
(Phillips 1996) or as an avoidance of non-target-like agreement (Borer &
Rohrbacher 1997).
Phillips argues that RIs produced by 2-year-olds should not be interpreted
as evidence of a deficit or lack of functional projections in initial grammars
(cf. Clahsen, Eisenbeiss, & Vainikka 1994; Radford 1990, 1994; Wexler
1994). Instead, he states that children have all the syntactic components
of an adult structure but they are missing the derivational step, which
combines the verb with inflection; that is, children have difficulties in
accessing morphological knowledge. Crucially, Phillips distinguishes in his
analysis two types of constraints: (a) rigid constraints, or “constraints that
must be satisfied or else the sentence is ruled out automatically” (1996,
589); for example, in Germanic V2 languages, wh-questions and topicaliza-
tions are Complementizer Phrases (CPs) involving V-raising to C; another
example is Case-licensing in V-raising languages, and (b) violable constraints,
“which can only be violated if nothing better can be done” (p. 589); for
example, V-raising to inflection is not an absolute requirement.
Phillips’ first argument for the availability of functional projections
(FPs) in initial grammars is the contrast in the production of RIs in V2
languages in declaratives versus their disappearance in wh-questions and
topicalizations; that is, analysis of Dutch, German, and Swedish child data
showed that although children were producing RIs in declarative struc-
tures, RIs disappeared almost completely in wh-questions and topicaliza-
tions, structures that require V-raising to C. Phillips argues that if children
are lacking FPs (e.g., inflection or C), then we should expect random pro-
duction of RIs regardless of the structure involved. This prediction was
not borne out by the Germanic V2 child data. Moreover, the author points
out that when these children produced verbal inflection, their production
was target-like.
Phillips’ second argument in favor of the availability of FPs in initial gram-
mars is based on the correlation found in the data between the production
of RIs and null subjects.5 He found the interaction of finiteness with subject
overtness was not uniform across languages, as analyses based on syntactic
36 First Language Acquisition in Spanish

deficits would predict. In particular, his data analysis of languages that


require V-raising for overt subject licensing (e.g., Dutch, Flemish, French,
and German) revealed a significant drop in the percentages of overt sub-
jects with RIs. For example, Haegeman’s (1995) analysis of Hein’s early
Dutch data showed that 68 percent of Hein’s finite utterances had an overt
subject, whereas only 15 percent of his non-finite sentences had an overt
subject. Moreover, Phillips points to a cross-linguistic contrast between
V-raising languages and languages like English in which Nominative
Case-licensing does not require V-raising. Specifically, he found no effect of
finiteness in the production of overt subjects in early English, for example,
for Eve (Brown 1973): the production rate of null subjects was the same
with finite and non-finite verbs, 91 percent and 89 percent, respectively.
Based on these two pieces of evidence, Phillips concludes that children’s
production of RIs does not have its basis in a morphological or syntactic
deficit but in the connection between the two systems.
Borer and Rohrbacher (1997) bring support to Phillips’ analysis, claim-
ing that the absence of functional material provides evidence in favor of
(not against) the availability of functional structure in early grammar. In
particular, they argue that the absence of overt agreement markers reflects
an avoidance strategy on the part of the learner of incorrect forms while
she completes the acquisition of the morphophonology.
The authors provide the contrast in the production of RIs in child lan-
guage versus the production of RIs in agrammatic patients as evidence of
the availability of FPs in early grammars. Borer and Rohrbacher point out
that if early grammars lacked functional projections (FPs), then one should
find in children’s production random agreement mistakes. This prediction
is not supported by their cross-linguistic review of studies on verbal
inflection in child language. First, they found that when children produce
finite verbal forms, they do so in an overwhelmingly target-like fashion.
This result points to the availability of FPs in child language in which agree-
ment relations are checked. Second, the data revealed no overuse of agree-
ment morphology in child language; rather, it revealed what Borer and
Rohrbacher called an avoidance of agreement errors by using a minimal
non-agreeing (well-formed) default form; for example, in English children
use bare verbs (Harris & Wexler 1996), and in French, children use infini-
tives and participles (Roberge 1990).
In contrast to their findings on child language, their review of studies on
agrammatic aphasic patients indicates that these patients produced consid-
erably more agreement errors than children; for example, in French, the
patients produced non-target-like subject clitics in 5 of 36 cases (14 percent)
Gender Agreement 37

and non-target-like object clitics in 3 of 14 cases (22 percent). In compari-


son, Roberge (1990) found that when French children produce finite
utterances, subject clitics were rare. This is an example of what Borer and
Rohrbacher call morphological avoidance, because clitics are considered
agreement markers. The researchers interpret this contrast in the produc-
tion of children and agrammatic patients as evidence of the availability of
FPs in the latter but not in the former. Notice that children do not produce
random agreement errors (i.e., they produce RIs consistently or else the
target agreement form), agrammatic patients do not show any particular
preference for a particular verb form as a substitute, as found by Miceli and
Mazzuchi (1990) in their study of agrammatic Italian patients.
Borer and Rohrbacher propose that children project a full functional
structure on the basis of their non-random production of RIs. Furthermore,
they argue that the production of non-inflected or minimally inflected
forms requires no checking or very little checking; for example, the pro-
duction of RIs in English requires no checking.
For the present study, I will show that children’s non-adult like produc-
tion in the acquisition of gender agreement mostly involves the production
of overgeneralizations of the masculine gender, that is, this seems to be the
default value for the children under study. Furthermore, I interpret the
application of the default gender value as a converging derivation, follow-
ing Phillips (1996), in which the default value is inserted as a last-resort
strategy; that is, when children are not able to access the target morphologi-
cal markings, default values for the features will be inserted as a last resort
and the derivation will converge. Recall that the same strategy is available in
Spanish adult grammar, with the only difference being that children’s early
grammar applies this default value more frequently because they are in the
process of acquiring the overt morphophonological agreement markers.
In other words, when neologisms are introduced to the Spanish language,
they tend to adopt the masculine gender in terms of agreement, for exam-
ple, ‘a computer’ in Spanish is un ordenador (masculine) not una ordenadora
(feminine).
Support for the hypothesis of the insertion of the default value as an
acquisition strategy is found in the overwhelmingly target-like production
of the children under study in terms of gender agreement, that is,
83 percent target-like production. If the production of these forms were the
result of a deficiency in the children’s grammars, then this result would be
unexpected.
This proposal finds cross-lingustic support in a study on the acquisition
of Greek morphology by Varlokosta, Vainikka, and Rohrbacher (1996).
38 First Language Acquisition in Spanish

In both the Greek and the Spanish nominal systems, it is not morphologi-
cally possible to produce a bare verbal stem, and there are no infinitival
forms in this language. Varlokosta et al. found that Greek children initially
prefer the verbal forms ending in the third person singular (3sg) suffix –i,
for example, anitsi ‘open (3sg.Perf.Subj).’ The authors point out that this
form is ambiguous with the participial form, for example, έχω ανοίξει (eho
anixi) ‘(I) have opened.’ The children produced the i-form in non-third-
person contexts, but only when the forms were ambiguous between the
third person interpretation and the non-agreeing participial reading. The
production of this form can be interpreted as the production of a default
verbal form, similar to the default masculine gender argued for in Spanish
in the present study.

3.3 Gender Acquisition Research

Several studies have addressed the topic of the acquisition of gender agree-
ment in Spanish as a first language. Most of the studies reviewed agree on
the gradual nature of the acquisition of gender agreement morphology,
which starts with the production of mostly masculine singular DPs and
progressively expands to the inclusion of feminine ones (Aguirre 1995;
Hernández Pina 1984; López Ornat 2003; Schnell de Acedo 1994; among
others). However, these studies as a whole do not provide a coherent pic-
ture regarding the nature of gender agreement in Spanish child language.
Discrepancies in research findings arise from several factors, such as the
different methodological approaches used (naturalistic vs experimental);
the subject’s linguistic development (chronological age vs Mean Length
Utterance); and the type of data analysis conducted (qualitative vs quantita-
tive). Researchers such as Hernández Pina (1984) and Maez (1982), for
example, present purely descriptive analyses of the acquisition of gender
agreement using naturalistic data, whereas Schnell de Acedo (1994) and
Snyder (1995, 2007) provide quantitative analyses of the naturalistic data used.
Furthermore, the studies reviewed present opposite views on the nature of
gender agreement in initial grammars, one of the focuses of the present
monograph. On the one hand, some researchers portray an image of the
acquisition process with an apparent abundance of non-target-like produc-
tion until acquisition is achieved (Hernández Pina 1984; López Ornat 2003;
Maez 1982), whereas others present a picture of a virtually errorless process
(Aguirre 1995; Schnell de Acedo 1994). This section presents a discussion
of these opposite views on the nature of gender agreement.
Gender Agreement 39

Researchers such as Hernández Pina (1984) and Maez (1982) provide


descriptive analyses of the acquisition of gender agreement, with emphasis
on non-target-like production. First, Hernández Pina presents a longitudi-
nal analysis of her son Rafael’s acquisition of gender agreement, which at
first sight seems to be full of non-target-like utterances. She states that
Rafael’s first determiners emerged at the two-word stage (between 18 and
19 months) but that there were instances of gender mismatches, for exam-
ple, el silla ‘the (masc) chair (fem)’; una pájaro ‘a/one (fem) bird (masc).’
These examples are interesting because they may indicate that Rafael is not
merely matching nominal endings with a particular determiner but work-
ing out the agreement system. According to Hernández Pina, Rafael real-
ized that the gender feature is generalizable at 21 months, and he acquired
the gender of animate nominals (semantic gender) during the period of
21–25 months, for example, niño-niña ‘boy/girl.’ In contrast, the researcher
states that the child struggled with the acquisition of gender of inanimate
nominals as well as with adjectival agreement with these nominals, as shown
in the DPs listed in Example 3.6.

Example 3.6
Rafael’s production Target-like
(a) mota rota moto rota ‘motorcycle (fem) broken (fem)’
(b) tierra azula tierra azul ‘earth(fem) blue (fem)’
(c) un llave una llave ‘a (masc) key (fem)’

A quick review of the DPs in Example 3.6 indicates that Rafael may have
been aware of the Spanish canonical feminine morphological marker,
namely a final –a. In particular, he tried to regularize the morphological
endings of the nominal mot–o (short for motora) to mot–a ‘motorcycle’ in
Example 3.6(a) and the invariable adjective azul ‘blue,’ to azula.6 Finally,
Example 3.6(c) illustrates the use of the masculine determiner un ‘a/one’
with the unmarked feminine noun llave ‘key.’ This could be an indication
that masculine is the unmarked value in Spanish initial grammars. Unfortu-
nately, the researcher does not provide any quantitative data to support her
assessment of Rafael’s acquisition of gender agreement.
Maez (1982) presents a similar view of the acquisition of gender agree-
ment, namely, a process characterized by great variability and the produc-
tion of non-target-like utterances. He studied the acquisition of nominal
morphology for a period of six months, collecting spontaneous production
data every two weeks from three children: Karina, Celena, and Ana, ages 1;6
40 First Language Acquisition in Spanish

to 2;0. The exhaustive list of non-target-like production with respect to gen-


der is illustrated in Example 3.7.

Example 3.7
Age Utterance Error type
1;7 *un (una) boca (Celena) ‘a/one mouth’ Masc. Det/Fem. Noun
1;8 *un (una) cosita (Karina) ‘a/one little thing’ Masc. Det/Fem. Noun
*la (el) pan (Karina) ‘the bread’ Fem. Det/ Masc.Noun
1;10 *un (una) leche (Ana) ‘a/one milk’ Masc. Det/Fem. Noun
1;11 *un (una) uva (Ana) ‘a/one grape’ Masc. Det/Fem. Noun
2;0 *el (la) televisión (Celena) ‘the television’ Masc. Det/Fem. Noun
*un (una) calabaza (Celena)‘a/one pumpkin’ Masc. Det/Fem. Noun
*una (un) jabón (Ana) ‘a/one soap’ Fem. Det/Masc. Noun
*lo (la) silla (Celena) ‘the chair’ Neuter Det/Fem. Noun

Example 3.7 shows that the most common type of non-target-like agree-
ment utterance with respect to gender (six out of nine) is the production
of a masculine determiner with a feminine noun, for example, un calabaza
‘a/one (masc) pumpkin (fem)’; this might be an indication of the avail-
ability of an initial value for gender. Example 3.7 also includes two examples
of the use of a feminine determiner, la pan ‘the (fem) bread (masc)’ and
una jabón ‘a/one (fem) soap (masc).’ Interestingly, Hernández Pina cites
similar examples in Rafael’s production; these examples point to the pos-
sibility that these children are not merely matching the input heard but
working out their own internal agreement system. Notice that these two
nominals, jabón and pan, are readily available in the input to these children.
The last DP listed in Example 3.7, lo silla ‘the (neuter) chair (fem),’ illus-
trates the use of the neuter pronoun lo with a feminine noun. This case is
interesting because it might reflect an attempt by the child at regularizing
the definite article paradigm from el/la to lo/la. I should point out, this
neuter pronoun is used only with abstract reference in the target language,
for example, lo importante ‘the important (matter).’ As a result, this use
might not be part of the primary linguistic data. As in the study by Hernán-
dez Pina, Maez’s findings point to an acquisition process in which children
are producing non-target-like utterances together with target-like utter-
ances; however, no major conclusions can be drawn given the chosen meth-
odological approach.
In contrast with the studies reviewed, Schnell de Acedo (1994) and
Aguirre (1995) present a view of a virtually errorless gender acquisition
process in terms of the gender agreement relations established by the chil-
Gender Agreement 41

Table 3.3 Morela’s determiner production

Definite Indefinite

Singular Plural Total Singular Plural Total TOTAL

M (el) F (la) M (los) F (las) M (un) F (una) M (unos) F (unas)

16 4 0 0 0 4 3 1 0 0 4 8

23 2 5 10 1 18 0 0 0 0 0 18

29 8 13 1 0 22 31 12 2 0 45 67

Total 14 18 11 1 44 34 13 2 0 49

dren under study. First, Schnell de Acedo examines the acquisition of agree-
ment in determiner-noun structures using the longitudinal naturalistic
data of a monolingual Venezuelan girl, Morela. The researcher included in
her study three recordings: 16, 23, and 29 months. Similarly to Hernández
Pina’s findings, Morela’s production of determiners increased in a gradual
fashion, as illustrated in Table 3.3.
Table 3.3 also shows the agreement patterns present in Morela’s Deter-
miner Phrases (DPs). First, at 16 months with a MLUw of 1.35, most of her
DPs are masculine (seven out of eight) and all were target-like with respect
to agreement. Morela produced only one instance of a feminine DP, and it
was non-target-like: una papá ‘a/one (fem) dad (masc).’ This example is
interesting because the nominal has the feminine canonical mark for gen-
der, namely, a final –a. This non-target-like utterance seems to support
Pérez-Pereira’s (1991) findings on gender assignment clues. The researcher
conducted an experimental study with 160 children, ages 4 to 11 years
old, to study the relevance of intralinguistic clues (syntactic and mor-
phophonological) versus extralinguistic ones (male vs female) in children’s
recognition of the gender of 22 created nouns. He found that intralinguis-
tic clues are more relevant than extralinguistic ones in terms of compre-
hension, for example, children better understood items such as una pilín
‘a/one (syntactic clue) pilin (unmarked)’ than items such as dos borales ‘two
borales (natural gender clue).’
At 23 months (MLUw = 2.15), Morela produced a total of 18 DPs (12 mas-
culine and 6 feminine), all of them target-like with respect to agreement.
This marks a dramatic change in her production, from 8 to 18 and from mostly
all masculine to one-third feminine. Finally, at 29 months (MLUw = 2.26), the
child produced a total of 67 DPs: 42 masculine and 25 feminine. Schnell de
Acedo states that Morela has a complete command of the full inventory of
42 First Language Acquisition in Spanish

forms at this age. However, this claim does not seem to be supported by
Morela’s data, shown in Table 3.3. For example, Morela did not produce
the feminine articles in the plural form. Aguirre (1995) brings support for
Schnell de Acedo’s findings of an errorless acquisition of gender. In her
study on the acquisition of the Spanish determiner, Aguirre finds that the
children under study present an almost errorless production of gender,
noting only one example of a non-target utterance with respect to gender,
for example, un niña ‘a/one (masc/sg) girl.’ Interestingly, the author also
reports that children were also producing nominals with the invariant
vocalic element a, for example, a niños ‘a children’ and a pollo ‘a chicken.’
This points to an acquisition strategy of using a when they are not able to
produce the target determiner, as noted by the researcher.
Schnell de Acedo’s findings are at odds with Maez’s and Hernández Pina’s
results in terms of the nature of gender agreement in early grammars; that
is, the former two stress the fact that children are indeed producing non-
target-like utterances at the beginning stages, but the latter finds only one
instance of a non-target-like utterance in her analysis.7 This striking differ-
ence between these findings might be the result of a methodological arti-
fact, namely, frequency of recordings.
Snyder (1995) presents a more balanced view of gender acquisition within
DP, using the corpus of Juan Linaza from CHILDES (MacWhinney & Snow
1985) from ages 1;7 to 3;5. His analysis reveals that even though Juan’s
determiners correctly agree with their head nouns in gender in the vast
majority of cases from the earliest stages, the child also produces non-
target-like utterances. Juan’s DP production ranges from 83 to 100 percent
target-like. In particular, at age 2;0, Juan produces examples of contrastive
gender uses of the determiner, for example, el/la ‘the (masc/fem).’
The current review of research on the nature of gender agreement in
Spanish early grammar yields inconclusive results. On the one side, research-
ers agree on the emergence of the masculine DPs, bringing support for the
availability of an initial unmarked value for the gender feature, namely the
masculine. On the other side, studies disagree on the process of conver-
gence to the target grammar. As mentioned earlier, this might be a result of
the different methodological approaches adopted.

3.4 Experimental Approach to Gender Acquisition

One of the goals of this monograph is to explore the nature of nominal


agreement in Spanish early grammars, that is, to examine the gender and
number agreement relations children establish, or fail to establish, within
Gender Agreement 43

Table 3.4 Total utterance distribution


Number Percentage

BNPs 394 44

(Full) DPs 94 11

MPH/DPs 102 11

Demonstrative pronouns 165 18

Third person clitics 43 5

Attributive adjectives 18 2

Predicative adjectives 77 9

TOTAL 893 100

the Determiner Phrase. This chapter focuses on gender agreement acquisi-


tion using the experimental data extracted from the transcripts of three
monolingual, Spanish-speaking children under the age of 3 (Elián, Alonso,
and Londa) from San Juan, Puerto Rico. In addition, the data of two chil-
dren over the age of 4 (Diana and Pepe) are introduced in the discussion
for comparison purposes (see Chapter 2 for details).
The data for the present study consist of 893 utterances illustrated in
Table 3.4. This table also shows that the most common type of utterance
produced by the three children is the Bare Noun Phrase (BNP), that is, a
noun produced in isolation. Notice that BNPs in this table include both
target-like and non-target-like BNPs, that is, nominals with an obligatory
determiner omitted. Moreover, Table 3.4 indicates that the three children
under study as a whole produced an equal number (11 percent each) of
Full DPs (i.e., a DP consisting of an adult-like determiner and a nominal)
and MPH/DPs (i.e., a DP consisting of a vocalic element and a nominal).
Furthermore, Table 3.4 demonstrates the fact that children’s attributive
adjective production was extremely low, consistent with what some acquisi-
tion studies have reported (López Ornat 1997; Mariscal 2008; Snyder
2007).
In terms of nominal agreement as a whole, the analysis of the production
of the three children under study yielded two major generalizations.
First, despite the differences in Mean Length of Utterance in words (MLUw)
among the three children (Elián, MLUw = 1.5; Alonso, MLUw = 1.9; and
Londa, MLUw = 2.2), they produced a significantly higher number of
target-like utterances (83 percent) with regard to agreement (χ2 = 43.56,
p < 0.0001) than non-target-like ones (17 percent), as shown in Table 3.5.
44 First Language Acquisition in Spanish

Table 3.5 Nominal and gender agreement utterances

DPsa MPH/ Dem.c Cliticd Attrib.e Pred.f Total


DPsb

Target-like 83 (89%) 87 (85%) 140 (85%) 30 (70%) 12 (67%) 61 (79%) 413 (83%)

Non-target-like 11 (11%) 15 (15%) 25 (15%) 13 (30%) 6 (33%) 16 (21%) 86 (17%)

Total 94 (100%) 102 (100%) 165 (100%) 43 (100%) 18 (100%) 77 (100%) 499 *(100%)

a
(Full) DPs
b
Monosyllabic Phrase Holder DPs
c
Demonstrative pronouns
d
Third person clitic pronouns
e
Attributive adjective
f
Predicative adjective
*
Notice that Table 3.5 totals do not include the 394 BNPs produced by the children under study. This total
was excluded from the table because BNPs occur in isolation, that is, they do not enter into an agreement
concord.

The strong target-like production in Table 3.5 points out the fact that
children acquiring Spanish are able to establish adult-like agreement rela-
tions from the early stages of the acquisition process. Notice that two of the
children are below the two-word stage in their production, that is, Elián,
MLUw = 1.5 and Alonso, MLUw = 1.9. Moreover, children’s target-like pro-
duction brings support to previous acquisition studies that claim that the
percentage of non-target-like production of children is limited (Aguirre
1995, Snyder 1995, and Schnell de Acedo 1994, for Spanish; Pizzuto &
Caselli 1992 for Italian, among others).
The second major generalization is in regard to the timing of the acquisi-
tion of gender and number features. Specifically, my analysis indicates
that gender morphological markings are acquired before number in these
structures, as the three children exhibited problems marking the plural
number feature in almost all the constituent types under study. The issue
of number acquisition is addressed in Chapter 4. These results provide
support for previous cross-linguistic and Spanish acquisition studies that
claimed that plural number posed difficulties in the acquisition process
(Caselli et al. 1993; Koehn 1994; López Ornat 2003; Maez 1982; Marrero &
Aguirre 2003). Moreover, this difference between the acquisition of num-
ber and gender points to a contrast in the acquisition of grammatical versus
semantic feature markings. Children seem to acquire grammatical gender
markings before plural (semantic) number markings. Contrary to the pres-
ent findings, Koehn (1994) argues that Ivar (a child acquiring German and
Gender Agreement 45

French) has no gender distinctions but has acquired the semantic concept
of singularity versus plurality, although the development of the grammatical
notion of number takes place later on. Similarly, Müller (1994) also claims
that grammatical features are unavailable at the beginning of the acquisi-
tion process of the two bilingual children under study (German and
French). Notice that these discrepancies might be based on the nature of
the linguistic systems being acquired: although it is not morphologically
possible in Spanish to produce a nominal (or the agreeing constituents)
without marking their gender, in German and French the learner has this
option, that is, German adjectives can be produced bare and French is not
a very morphologically rich language in terms of number and gender.
In terms of the overall non-target-like production, the percentages were
fairly low in general. However, the nature of the non-target-like utterances
produced in each structure was not the same. In particular, the three chil-
dren seem to have acquired gender agreement between determiners and
nouns and (apparently) between nominals and attributive adjectives,8 but
they had problems with number agreement in these structures. In contrast,
non-target-like utterances in the production of third-person clitics and
demonstrative pronouns mostly involved the application of the masculine
“default” gender;9 whereas non-target-like predicative adjectives utterances
involved mismatches of both gender and number features.

3.4.1 Gender Agreement


This section examines the nature of gender agreement acquisition in Spanish
DPs. The data analysis on this topic yielded two types of non-target-like utter-
ances with regard to gender. The first type, which I call “default,” refers to the
production of a feminine nominal with a masculine determiner and/or
adjective or the production of a masculine pronoun to refer to a feminine
nominal. An example of a default non-target-like utterance is: tá sucio ‘[it] is
dirty (masc/sg).’ In this utterance, Alonso produces the masculine adjective
sucio to refer to the feminine nominal bola ‘ball.’ The second type of non-
target-like utterance, which I call “mismatch,” involves the production of
feminine marked constituents, such as a determiner, with masculine nomi-
nals or the production of a feminine pronoun to refer to a masculine nomi-
nal. For example, Londa’s production of the feminine demonstrative esta
‘this (fem/sg) [one]’ to refer to the masculine noun caballo ‘horse,’ illustrates
a case involving a feature mismatch. Table 3.6 shows the token distribution of
these two types of non-target-like utterances with respect to gender.10
46 First Language Acquisition in Spanish

Table 3.6 Summary of gender non-target-like tokens

Structure Total production Non-target-like gender production Total

Mismatch Default

(Full) DPs 62 1 – 1

MPH/DPs 33 4 – 4

Attributive adjectives 18 – – –

Predicative Adjectives 65 – 10 10

Demonstratives 118 6 13 19

Third person clitics 37 1 8 9

Total 333 12 31 43

The analysis reveals that the majority of non-target-like production with


respect to gender involves the production of the masculine default value,
with 31 (72 percent) instances out of a total of 43, as shown in Table 3.6.
This brings support for the availability of a default value in these children’s
grammars, namely, masculine. Furthermore, Table 3.6 points to the follow-
ing contrast in the acquisition of gender agreement: children are not
having problems establishing target-like agreement between determiners
and nominals but seem to struggle in establishing target-like agreement
in structures involving a pronominal. In particular, Table 3.6 shows that
children produced only five non-target-like tokens in Determiner-N struc-
tures and 38 non-target-like tokens pertaining to a pronoun: demonstra-
tives, clitics, and predicative adjectives.
Now we turn our attention to a detailed analysis of the children’s pro-
duction of the gender agreement in each of the constituents under study.
The discussion is organized in three sections. Section 3.4.1.1 examines
agreement findings on Full DPs, and MPH/DPs, the analysis of adjectival
agreement is presented in Section 3.4.1.2, whereas Section 3.4.1.3 focuses
on gender agreement involving demonstrative and clitic pronouns.

3.4.1.1 DP Gender Agreement


The data analysis reveals that the three children under study show no major
difficulties in establishing target-like gender agreement relations between
determiners and the nominals they precede, as previous acquisition studies
have indicated (e.g., Aguirre 1995; López Ornat 1997). This conclusion is
Gender Agreement 47

supported by the contrast between the target-like tokens produced by the


children versus the non-target-like ones, as shown in Table 3.6 above and
repeated here as Table 3.7.
In particular, a close examination of gender agreement in the (full) DP
production of the three children reveals a contrast in terms of number of
tokens produced, as shown in Table 3.8. At first sight this table illustrates
that the distribution of (full) DPs in terms of gender agreement ranging
from the lowest production by Elián (5) to the highest by Londa (38). In
addition, Table 3.8 shows that out of a total of 62 (full) DP tokens produced
by the three children, only one involved the production of a non-target-like
DP. This result is striking given the fact that two of the three children under
study have MLUs in words below two, that is, Elián’s MLUw = 1.5 and
Alonso’s MLUw= 1.9. Moreover, this finding shows that at the earlier combi-
natory stages children do exhibit target-like gender agreement between
determiners and nominals, giving support to previous acquisition studies
such as Aguirre (1995), Schnell de Acedo (1994), Snyder (1995), and
Mariscal (2008), among others.

Table 3.7 Summary of gender non-target-like tokens

Structure Total production Non-target-like gender production Total

Mismatch Default

(Full) DPs 62 1 – 1

MPH/DPs 33 4 – 4

Attributive adjectives 18 – – –

Predicative Adjectives 65 – 10 10

Demonstratives 118 6 13 19

Third person clitics 37 1 8 9

Total 333 12 31 43

Table 3.8 Distribution of (full) DP tokens


Target /Non-target-like Elián Alonso Londa Total

Target-like 4 19 38 61

Non-target-like 1 0 0 1

Total 5 19 38 62
48 First Language Acquisition in Spanish

In addition, the data analysis identified individual differences in terms of


the gender of the determiners produced in the (full) DPs; hence children’s
production is presented separately. In the case of Elián, he produced only
five tokens of (full) DPs, as seen in Table 3.8. His production was all femi-
nine, involving the definite determiner la ‘the (fem/sg)’ and the indefinite
otra ‘another (fem/sg) [one].’ In terms of gender agreement, he produces
the only clear non-target-like utterance in the (full) DP data, as shown in
Example 3.8.

Example 3.8
Child utterance Target
*la yuguete el juguete
‘the (fem/sg) toy (unm/masc/sg)’ ‘the (masc/sg) toy (unm/masc/sg)’

In Example 3.8, Elián utters the feminine determiner la with the mascu-
line nominal juguete, creating what I have called a feature mismatch, that is,
the production of a masculine nominal with a feminine determiner. This is
an interesting mismatch because the noun juguete is not overtly marked for
gender, ending in the vowel –e. As a result, this noun does not offer any
overt clues to the language learner regarding the value of its gender feature.
In the Spanish language, nominals ending in this vowel can belong to either
the masculine or the feminine gender. Although it is tempting to suggest
that he is using the feminine gender as the “default” value, given the limited
production of DPs by this particular child, no conclusions can be reached
regarding this matter.
In contrast to Elián’s all feminine production, Alonso exhibited an almost
all-masculine determiner production (17 out of 19 tokens), as shown in
Table 3.9.

Table 3.9 Alonso’s (full) DP tokens

Determiner type Masculine Feminine Total

Singular Plural Singular Plural

Definite determiner 3 5 2 – 10 (52%)

Indefinite determiner 5 – – – 5 (26%)

Demonstrative 2 – – – 2 (11%)

Other 2 – – – 2 (11%)

Total 12 5 2 – 19 (100%)
Gender Agreement 49

Crucially, the two feminine DPs this child produced were also target-like
with respect to gender agreement. Moreover, Alonso’s data reflects a wider
variety of DPs in comparison to Elián’s (almost) all definite production,
as seen in Table 3.9. The following types of determiners were present in
Alonso’s data: (a) definite articles, for example, el caballo ‘the (masc/sg)
horse;’ (b) indefinite articles, for example, un carro ‘a/one (masc/sg) car;’
(c) demonstrative adjectives, for example, ese guauguau ‘that (masc/sg)
dog;’ and (d) the indefinite otro ‘another,’ for example, otro caballo ‘another
horse.’ Table 3.9 illustrates the distribution of determiner types produced
by Alonso (see Appendix A for a complete list of Alonso’s (full) DP tokens).
Table 3.9 also shows that the definite article was the determiner with the
highest production frequency: 10 tokens out of a total of 19. However, the
difference between the production of definite versus indefinite articles was
not found to be statistically significant (χ2 = 1.7, p < 0.20). Moreover, the
definite determiner was the only determiner produced also in the feminine
form, for example, la comida ‘the (fem/sg) food (fem/sg)’ and la lu ‘the
(fem/sg) light (un/fem/sg)’ for la luz. Regarding the indefinite article, it
was only produced in the singular masculine form un, for example, un nene
‘a/one (masc/sg) kid (masc/sg).’ Alonso uttered two demonstrative deter-
miner tokens, both in the singular masculine form, for example, ese guau-
guau ‘that (masc/sg) dog (masc/sg)’ and este caballo ‘this (masc/sg) horse
(masc/sg).’ Finally, he also produced two tokens of the indefinite otro
‘another,’ in the masculine singular, for example, otro caballo ‘another
(masc/sg) horse (masc/sg).’
Similar to the almost all target-like production of Elián and Alonso with
respect to gender agreement, Londa’s (full) DP utterances reflect an adult-
like agreement production, as illustrated in Table 3.10.
Londa produced 29 instances of masculine nouns (24 singular and 5
plural) and 27 instances of feminine nouns (24 singular and 3 plural), as
illustrated in Table 3.10. Notice that in Table 3.10 there is an instance of

Table 3.10 Londa’s (full) DP utterances


Masculine Feminine

Target-like Non-target-like Target-like Non-target-like

Singular 24 – 24 1*

Plural 3 2 3 –

Total 27 2 26 1
50 First Language Acquisition in Spanish

one “non-target-like” utterance with respect to gender. This utterance is


presented in Example 3.9.

Example 3.9
Child Target
*Mira él, pielna Mira las piernas de él/ sus piernas
‘Look he/the leg’ ‘Look (at) the legs of him/his legs’

The child uttered Example 3.9 as she showed the legs of her toy dog to the
experimenter. This example is ambiguous because it can be interpreted as
the child saying mira el pielna ‘look the (masc) leg (fem)’ in which case
there would be an instance of a non-adult-like gender agreement utter-
ance, or what I call default, involving the use of masculine definite deter-
miner el ‘the’ with the feminine nominal pielna ‘leg.’ On the other hand,
Example 3.9 can be interpreted as mira él, pielna ‘look at him, leg.’ In this
second possible interpretation, el ‘the’ is read as the object pronoun él
‘him.’ Notice that these two constituents, the definite determiner el and the
object pronoun él, are homophonous in Spanish, adding to the ambiguity
of this utterance. Nonetheless, factors such as the context of this utterance,
the pause between él and the nominal pierna and this child’s overall produc-
tion favor the second interpretation as the intended one. In this interpreta-
tion, the child might have omitted the possessive adjective su ‘his’ or simply
the definite article la ‘the.’ Moreover, there is evidence in Londa’s data
that seem to indicate that she has not acquired yet the (prenominal) pos-
sessive markers (e.g., mi ‘my,’ tu ‘your,’ su ‘his/her,’ etc.) and uses the (post-
nominal) emphatic possessive instead, as illustrated in the dialogue in
Example 3.10.

Example 3.10
Experimenter: ¿Con quién hablas? ‘With whom are you speaking?’
Londa: Papá mío ‘Dad (of) mine’

The exchange in Example 3.10 occurs as the experimenter and the child
pretend to talk on the phone. When the experimenter asks the child with
whom she is speaking, Londa responds with the phrase Papá mío ‘Dad (of)
mine’ instead of the adult-like mi papá ‘my dad.’ Hence Example 3.9 above
might indicate the difficulty the child is having in marking the possessive
structures, namely, producing mira su pierna ‘look at his leg’ or mira la pierna
de él ‘look at the leg of his.’ Finally, in Table 3.10 we can see that Londa
Gender Agreement 51

Table 3.11 Londa’s (full) DP tokens

Determiner Type Masculine Feminine Total

Singular Plural Singular Plural

Definite determiner 2 1 2 1 6 (16%)

Indefinite determiner 9 3 11 1 24 (63%)

Demonstrative 4 – 2 1 7 (18%)

Other – – 1 – 1 (3%)

Total 15 4 16 3 38 (100%)

produced two additional non-target-like utterances. These will be discussed


in Chapter 4, as they pertain to the number feature.
In contrast to the production of Elián and Alonso, Londa’s (full) DP pro-
duction regarding gender presents a balanced distribution between mascu-
line and feminine DPs. An analysis of this child’s utterances yielded a total
of 38 (full) DP tokens produced in obligatory contexts (excluding repeti-
tions), as illustrated in Table 3.11.
A review of the (full) DP tokens in Table 3.11 indicates that Londa’s (full)
DP production is evenly split between feminine and masculine DPs, with
the production of 19 masculine and 19 feminine (full) DP tokens (see
Appendix A for a complete list). Moreover, Table 3.11 shows the distribu-
tion of the tokens by determiner type, with significantly (χ2 = 10.8, p < 0.01)
higher production of (full) DPs with the indefinite article (63 percent) for
example, uno avión ‘an/one airplane.’ This child’s indefinite determiner
production seems to indicate that she has acquired the use of this deter-
miner in terms of grammatical agreement. However, as will be discussed in
Chapter 4, the analysis of the reference of this child’s indefinite DPs reveals
that she still struggles with matching morphological features on the DPs
with those of the actual referent.
Londa’s (full) DP token distribution contrasts with both Alonso’s and
Elián’s, for whom the definite article was the dominant type of determiner,
accounting for more than 50 percent and 80 percent respectively of the
total DP tokens produced by these children. Notice that the experimental
tasks provided the appropriate context for the production of indefinite
(full) DPs, for example, when a new object was introduced to the task, as
illustrated in Example 3.11.
52 First Language Acquisition in Spanish

Example 3.11
Experimenter: ¿Qué es esto? ‘What is this (neuter)?’
(Experimenter asks the child as she is taking
out a toy dog from the bag.)
Child’ expected response: Un perro ‘a dog’ or Es un perro ‘[It] is a dog.’

In Example 3.11, the felicitous answer is one that includes the indefinite
determiner un perro ‘a/one dog.’ However, as will be discussed in Chapter 5,
the analysis of the data reveals a significant rate of determiner omissions in
the children under study.
Nonetheless, the contrast regarding the production of definite versus
indefinite determiner type might point to the fact that definite determiners
are acquired before indefinite ones. Previous acquisition research on this
issue is inconclusive, with some studies stating children are producing only
definite determiners at the earliest stages of acquisition (e.g., Mariscal 2008;
Schnell de Acedo 1994), and others claiming both types of determiners
are present in children’s production from the start of the two-word stage
(e.g., Aguirre 1995).
Overall, the previous discussion on (full) DPs reveals that the production
by the three children under study was almost completely target-like with
respect to gender agreement, even though they are at different stages of
acquisition, as illustrated in Table 3.12.
In particular, Table 3.12 indicates that of a total of 62 full DP tokens pro-
duced by the three children, only one token was non-target-like with respect
to gender agreement. This finding is very important because it supports
the hypothesis on the availability of an adult-like feature-checking mecha-
nism in early grammars. Interestingly, this conclusion finds support in the
L2 literature (e.g., Bruhn de Garavito & White 2000). Bruhn de Garavito
and White conducted a study on the L2 acquisition of Spanish DPs using as
subjects two groups of French speakers. Group 1 consisted of 30 high school
students who were finishing their first year of Spanish, and Group 2 con-
sisted of 12 students who were at the end of their second year of Spanish.
The researchers found that the two groups had a high accuracy rate on the

Table 3.12 Overall (full) DP token production


Masculine Feminine Total

Target-like Non-target-like Target-like Non-target-like

Total 36 1 25 – 62
Gender Agreement 53

production of agreement between determiners and nominals. In particu-


lar, Group 1 produced 88 percent target-like agreement with definite deter-
miners and 78 percent with indefinite determiners. Group 2, in turn,
produced 95 percent target-like agreement with definite determiners and
88 percent with indefinite determiners.
In addition, some preliminary conclusions can be drawn from the
analysis of the (full) DP production. First, regarding the three children’s
production of (full) DPs, the analysis points to three different levels of lin-
guistic development. In particular, Elián seems to be at the lowest level, with
the production of only five (full) DP tokens and very little variety in terms
of determiner type, that is, he only produces two types of determiners.
Regarding Alonso, his production seems to indicate he is at a more advanced
stage than Elián, producing 19 (full) DP tokens with a greater variety in
terms of determiner type. In contrast with these two children, Londa seems
to be at the highest level of linguistic development, with the production
of 38 (full) DP tokens, and a wider variety of full determiner type tokens.
Second, the DP production of these three children also differed in terms of
gender. On the one hand, Elián’s (full) DP tokens are almost all feminine
(i.e., four out of five tokens) and almost all definite (i.e., four out of five
tokens). Alonso’s (full) DP tokens, on the other hand, are almost all mascu-
line (i.e., 17 out of 19 tokens). As in Elián’s case, the majority of Alonso’s
(full) DPs involved the production of the definite article, particularly the
masculine one. Londa’s (full) DP tokens present a more balanced produc-
tion regarding gender, with an even split between feminine and masculine
(full) DPs produced. Furthermore, this child produces more DPs with
indefinite articles, in contrast with the other two children who produced
more definite DPs, an indication that Londa is in the process of acquiring
this determiner, at least in the singular form.
In the next section, I discuss the production of MPH/DPs, that is, nomi-
nals preceded by a vocalic element, for example, e caballo ‘a horse’ for the
adult-like form of el caballo ‘the horse.’

3.4.1.1.1 Monosyllabic Place Holder Determiner Phrases


Monosyllabic place holders (Bottari et al. 1993/1994) refer to children’s
production of vocalic elements occupying positions that full morphemes
would take in adult language. In particular, for the DP structures these
vocalic elements surface before nominals in the position that a full deter-
miner would occupy. The presence of these elements in child language
is well documented in acquisition research by a variety of cross-linguistic
54 First Language Acquisition in Spanish

studies (e.g., Aguirre 1995; Bottari et al. 1993/1994; Hernández Pina 1984;
Lleó 1997, 2001; López Ornat 1997; Pizzuto & Caselli 1992), but there is
disagreement regarding what they really represent in child grammar. On
the one side, researchers like Hernández Pina 1984 and López Ornat
(1997) interpret the production of these vocalic elements in phrases such
as e caballo ‘a horse’ as a reflection of a pre-grammatical stage, whereas
researchers such as Lleó (1997, 2001) interpret these vocalic elements as
grammatical but unspecified morphophonologically.
To determine the nature of these vocalic elements (MPHs) in children’s
grammar, an analysis was conducted on the agreement patterns established
between MPHs and the nominals they precede. The null hypothesis is that
MPHs function as pre-syntactic elements, that is, pre-determiners that hold
no features in the earlier stages of acquisition, as claimed by Bottari et al.
(1993/1994). The alternative hypothesis is that these vocalic elements
might contain some of the same features as their full determiner counter-
parts. The present analysis of MPHs is based on several assumptions. First,
vowel a can be a representation of the feminine determiners la ‘the’ or una
‘a’ and, as such, these pre-determiners might contain some of the same
features as the full determiner forms. Second, vowels e and o/os can func-
tion as phonetically shortened forms of the masculine determiners el ‘the’
(masculine/singular) and los ‘the’ (masculine/plural). Under the previous
assumptions, a target-like utterance is defined as one in which the assumed
number and gender features contained in the MPH match those of the
accompanying nominal.
The analysis of data on the production of MPH/DPs by the three chil-
dren under study yields a total of 102 utterances containing a Monosyllabic
Place Holder (MPH) with a noun, shown in Table 3.13.
Overall, Table 3.13 reveals the production of a majority of target-like
MPH/DPs by the three children, with the production of 87 target-like (84
percent) MPH/DPs out of a total of 102 utterances and 15 (16 percent)
non-target-like. Moreover, Table 3.13 indicates that the production of MPH/
DPs among the three children is not even, with the two younger children,

Table 3.13 Overall distribution of MPH/DPs

Target/Non-target-like Elián Alonso Londa Total

Target-like (%) 35 (92) 40 (77) 12 (100) 87 (84)


Non-target-like (%) 3 (8) 12 (23) 0 (0) 15 (16)
Total (%) 38 (100) 52 (100) 12 (100) 102 (100)
Gender Agreement 55

Table 3.14 Overall MPH/DP tokens


Nominal endings Total

Masculine Feminine

Singular Plural Singular Plural

–o –otha –os –oth –a –oth –as –oth

Elián Target-like 3 4 – – 2 2 – – 11
Non-target-like – – – – – – – 1 1
Londa Target-like – 2 – – 2 1 – – 5
Non-target-like – – – – – – – – –
Alonso Target-like 3 3 1 1 2 1 – – 11
Non-target-like 2 1 – 2 – – – – 5
Total 8 10 1 3 6 4 – 1 33
a
–oth includes the unmarked nominal endings, for example –e, –consonant.

Elián and Alonso, producing higher proportions of these elements than


Londa, the older child.
In order to take a closer look at the production of the children under
study, the 102 instances of MPH/DPs produced by the three children were
reduced to a total of 33 tokens after repetitions were excluded, as shown
in Table 3.14 (see Appendix B for a list of the MPH/DPs). This table also
shows that the analysis of the 33 MPH/DP tokens produced by the three
children yields a total of 27 target-like and 6 non-target-like in terms of
agreement, both in gender and number. Moreover, Table 3.14 shows the
distribution of the endings of the nominals produced in these MPH/DP
tokens, a subject that will be addressed later in the discussion.
Table 3.14 also reveals several differences in the production of MPH/DP
tokens among the three children. First, regarding number of tokens pro-
duced, Table 3.14 shows the following distribution: Elián (12), Alonso (16),
and Londa (5). However, the difference among the three is not statistically
significant (χ2 = 5.6, p = 0.06). Second, the analysis finds a contrast regard-
ing token targetness, whereas Elián and Londa produce target-like tokens
regarding gender agreement, Alonso produces a statistically significant
number of non-target-like tokens, that is, 5 out of 16 (χ2 = 5.8, p = 0.016).
Hence, their production will be examined individually. In the case of Elián,
his production was all target-like regarding gender, producing the mascu-
line MPH e with masculine nominals both marked, for example, e pel–o ‘the
(masc/sg) hair (masc/sg),’ and unmarked, for example, e bebé ‘the (masc/
sg) baby (masc/sg),’ as well as the feminine MPH a with feminine nominals
56 First Language Acquisition in Spanish

with both marked and unmarked nominals: a bola ‘a/the (fem/sg) ball
(fem/sg)’ for una/la bola; a uu (luz) ‘a/the (fem/sg) light (fem/sg)’ for
una/la luz. Elián’s MPH/DP production provides more information regard-
ing his gender agreement system. That is, although all of Elián’s full DP
production was feminine, his MPH/DP production in both the masculine
and feminine genders (all target-like) indicates that he has an operating
gender agreement system in place.
Londa’s MPH/DP production was very limited in comparison with Elián’s
(12) and Alonso’s (16), with only five tokens produced, all in the singular
and all target-like, as shown in Table 3.14 above. Her tokens were distrib-
uted as follows: two tokens involving the production of the masculine MPH
e with masculine nominals not overtly marked for gender (e.g., e guauguau
for el guauguau ‘the (masc/sg) dog (masc/sg),’ e lón for el león ‘the (masc/
sg) lion (masc/sg)’); and three tokens involving the production of the fem-
inine MPH a: two with (overtly) gender marked nominals (e.g., a pielna
for la pierna ‘the (fem/sg) leg (fem/sg),’ a ñama for la grama ‘the (fem/sg)
grass (fem/sg);’ and one with a non-overtly marked nominal: a lu for la luz
‘the(fem/sg) light (fem/sg).’ Londa’s limited production of MPHs seems
to indicate that she is already moving away from the production of MPHs
instead of full DPs; that is, Londa is at a later stage of development of the
determiner system than the other two children. Evidence for this conclu-
sion is demonstrated by the fact that she produced a significantly higher
proportion of full DPs in comparison to MPH/DPs (χ2 = 31, p < 0.01).
In contrast with the near-perfect MPH/DP production of Elián and
Londa, Alonso’s data present a significantly higher number of non-target-
like tokens, that is, 5 out of 16. First, Alonso’s target-like tokens are
examined. This child produced a total of 11 target-like MPH/DP tokens,
distributed as follows: five singular tokens with the masculine MPH e,
divided between canonically marked nominals (e.g., e caballo for el caballo
‘the (masc/sg) horse (masc/sg)’) and non-canonically marked ones (e.g.,
e bibí for el bibí or biberón ‘the (masc/sg) baby bottle (masc/sg)’); one singu-
lar token with the MPH u (e.g., u caballo ‘a/one horse’); and two tokens
in the plural. In addition, this child produced three feminine singular
tokens with the MPH a: two with canonically marked nominals (e.g., a bola
for una/la bola ‘a/the (fem/sg) ball (fem/sg)’); a vaca for una/la vaca ‘a/
the (fem/sg) cow (fem/sg)’) and one with a non-canonically marked nomi-
nal (e.g., a mano ‘the (fem/sg) hand (fem/sg).’
Now we turn the discussion to Alonso’s non-target-like production. The
non-target-like tokens produced by Alonso can be divided in two types:
the first type relates to an apparent mismatch of the gender feature; and
Gender Agreement 57

the second one involves a mismatch of the number feature. Example 3.12
illustrates Alonso’s gender mismatches; plural mismatches are presented in
Chapter 4.

Example 3.12
Child’s utterance Target
(a) *a caballo el caballo
‘the (fem/sg) horse (masc/sg)’ ‘the (masc/sg) horse (masc/sg)’
(b) *a pelo el pelo
‘the (fem/sg) hair(masc/sg)’ ‘the (masc/sg) hair (masc/sg)’
(c) *a guauguau el guauguau
‘the (fem/sg) dog (masc/sg)’ ‘the (masc/sg) dog (masc/sg)’

The first three utterances in Example 3.12 involve the production of MPH
a with masculine nominals in an apparent gender mismatch. Specifically, in
Example 3.12(a) Alonso utters the masculine nominal caballo with the MPH
a, which in the present analysis is assumed to carry the feminine gender
feature. There were five instances of this token in the data. One of them
involved the following alternation: a caballo, e caballo. This immediate alter-
nation between the MPHs a and e seems to be an attempt by the child at
self-correction. A second instance of this token occurred in the context
illustrated in Example 3.13.

Example 3.13
Child: ¿Vao a juar? for ¿Vamos a jugar? ‘Are we going to play?’
Experimenter: Sí, vamos a... ‘Yes, we are going to...’
Child: ¿A juar? for ¿A jugar ‘To play?’
Experimenter: Jugar ‘Play’
Child: A caballo ‘to horse [horses]’

In the dialogue above, the child asks the experimenter if the two of them
are going to play together as the experimenter takes out the experimental
props. In this particular context, the vowel a seems to be acting not as a
determiner but as the preposition in the phrase vamos a jugar a los caballos
‘We are going to play horses.’ The other three instances of a caballo seem to
involve the use of the vocalic element a as a determiner. In two cases, the
child utters this token in the form of a question as he searches for the
horses, for example, ¿Dostá a caballo? ‘Where is the horse?’ for ¿Dónde está el
caballo? ‘Where is the (masc/sg) horse (masc/sg)?’ in what seems to be an
58 First Language Acquisition in Spanish

appropriate context for a determiner. Finally, the context for the last
instance involving this token was as the child offers the horse to an adult,
for example, pati, a caballo ‘for you, a/the horse’ instead of para ti, un/el
caballo ‘for you, a/the (masc/sg) horse (masc/sg).’
To determine the preponderance of these five instances of the token a
caballo in the MPH/DP data, the number of instances in which Alonso
uttered the nominal caballo ‘horse’ with an MPH was calculated. A total of
30 instances were found, out of which only three were clear cases of non-
target-like uses as we discussed above. Moreover, the child produced the
appropriate masculine MPH e with the noun caballo in the majority of
instances (25 out of 30 instances).
The context of Example 3.12(b) a pelo ‘the hair’ instead of el pelo ‘the
(masc/sg) hair (masc/sg)’ is as Alonso looks at himself on the screen of the
camera while touching his hair. In this token, the child seems to be using
MPH a as a determiner. In Example 3.12(c), we see the production of the
MPH a with a non-canonically marked (i.e., ending in –u) masculine noun,
for example, guaugua–u ‘dog.’ Alonso produces four instances of this
particular token. As in the case of the token a caballo, the vowel a is not
used (unambiguously) as a determiner in all of the instances of this token.
The context for the first two instances is the child showing toys to other
people, for example, mía vaca, a guauguau ‘look cow, the/to dog’ instead
of mira una vaca, un guauguau ‘look (at) a (fem/sg) cow, a (masc/sg) dog.’
In this context, the a could be interpreted as the personal a and not the
MPH a. Spanish grammar marks the accusative noun object with an a if it is
a definite person or personified thing, for example, mira a Margo ‘look at
[personal a marker] Margo.’ Alonso might be marking the dog toy with the
personal a. The child utters the third instance of this token as he passes
one of the dogs to an adult, for example, ¡mía guauguau, pati a guauguau!
‘look dog, for you the dog.’ This utterance seems to involve a mismatch
between the MPH a and the masculine nominal. The last instance of this
token occurs while the child pretends to talk on the telephone with one
dog on each ear, hence the meaning intended is not clear. Alonso also pro-
duces two target-like instances of this token with the MPH e, for example,
Mira, e guauguau ‘look, the (masc/sg) dog (masc/sg).’
Several hypotheses can be invoked to account for Alonso’s non-target-
like MPH/DP utterances. The most obvious one would be to conclude that
MPH a is acting as a default determiner in this child’s grammar. This con-
clusion, however, is not borne out by Alonso’s overall production. First, as
discussed previously, this child’s (full) DP production is all target-like with
regard to gender and is almost all masculine, that is, 17 out of 19 full DPs
Gender Agreement 59

produced are masculine. Notice that the two feminine DPs that he pro-
duced were also target-like. Second, regarding his MPH/DP production,
Alonso utters three target-like feminine MPH/DPs, including a mano ‘the
hand.’ As explained in the case of Elián, this token is unique within the
Spanish nominal paradigm because it involves the only case of a feminine
nominal marked with the canonical masculine word marker –o (in com-
mon use), as pointed out by Harris (1991). Nonetheless, Alonso produces
this token with the target feminine MPH, an indication that this child has
some awareness of the feminine feature. Third, Alonso produces the mas-
culine singular form of demonstrative pronouns, third person clitics, and
adjectives to refer to both feminine and masculine nominals, as will be pre-
sented in the following sections, that is, evidence of a masculine default
value for gender. In light of this evidence, it would be an ad hoc solution to
conclude that MPH a is the default value for MPHs. Furthermore, Spanish
nominal agreement would be rendered unlearnable for this particular
child under the hypothesis that the masculine gender is the default value
for all the structures under study except in the case of MPHs.11
Another possible hypothesis is the one proposed by Bottari et al.
(1993/1994) for Italian. Interestingly, the authors found that the interpre-
tation of MPH a was ambiguous because it is difficult to discern between a
true MPH (void of morphological content) and a phonetic approximation
of the feminine determiner la ‘the.’ Notice that Bottari et al. distinguish in
their analysis between true MPHs and phonetic approximations. True
MPHs are defined as vocalic elements void of morphological value and, as
such, display a nearly free distribution, for example, MPH variants [a] and
[e] would occur with both feminine and masculine nominals. In contrast,
phonetic approximations would occur only in contexts in which full deter-
miners with the same vocalic elements would occur, for example, e in the
context of the masculine determiner el ‘the.’ In their data analysis, they
found that Italian children produced MPH a with feminine nominals
that ended in –a, but also in other contexts that could not be interpreted as
the determiner la. Bottari et al. concluded that the utterances involving the
MPH a with feminine nominal ending in –a were not cases of target-like
agreement, but rather they involved a strategy of phonological matching
between the MPH a and the final vocalic element in the nominals, –a. This
hypothesis predicts that if a is acting in Alonso’s grammar as a true MPH
void of features, the data should exhibit examples in which this MPH occurs
in contexts in which functional elements without the vocalic segment a
would occur. An analysis of Alonso’s overall production yielded evidence in
support of this prediction, as illustrated in Example 3.14.
60 First Language Acquisition in Spanish

Example 3.14
Child Target
(a) A Wili Wili
‘[personal a] Wili’ ‘Willy’
(b) A fío tiene frío
‘(a) cold’ ‘[he] is cold’
(c) A gusta te gusta
‘(A) (it) is pleasing’ ‘To you [it] is pleasing’

In Example 3.14 the MPH a occupies positions that the determiner


la cannot occupy in Spanish. In particular, in Example 3.14(a) the MPH is
uttered with the proper noun Wili. The MPH cannot be occupying the
place of a determiner because Spanish grammar disallows the use of deter-
miners with proper nouns which are considered arguments. Another pos-
sible interpretation of the a could be as an example of the personal a.
Alonso produced this particular token a total of six times, out of which four
seem to be cases of the personal a. For example, the child utters a Wili as a
response to the experimenter’s question: ¿Qué tú tienes ahí? ‘What do you
have there?’ The child responds in a target-like fashion, marking the
personified toy with the personal a. However, this token could not be inter-
preted unambiguously as cases of the personal a in two instances. In the
first instance, the child lifts the toy Wili and says: a Wili, a Wili ¡volando!
‘(a) Willy, (a) Willy, flying!’ This utterance is ambiguous in terms of inter-
pretation. One possible interpretation is Tengo a Wili volando ‘I have Wili
flying.’ In this interpretation, the a would be a case of the personal a, that
is, marking the object Willy. However, this utterance is open to another
interpretation: Wili está volando ‘Willy is flying.’ In this reading, the a is
not functioning as the objective marker because Willy is the subject of the
sentence. The other ambiguous instance of this token was A Wili come, am
am ‘(A) Willy eats, am am.’ Alonso utters this token while he makes Wili eat
up another animal; hence Wili is the subject of the sentence. Interestingly,
Dolitsky (1983) points out that David, the child she studied, also used place-
holders before proper nouns when he spoke of himself, his sister, or his
father. She claims that these placeholders seem to be marking genitive and
dative roles for the nouns. Similarly, in Example 3.14(a), we could argue
that Alonso has generalized the use of the personal a to all structural posi-
tions, as a generic case marker.
In Example 3.14(b), the child utters the MPH a with the noun frío ‘cold.’
This utterance occurs as the experimenter indicates to the child not to take
Gender Agreement 61

off a doll’s clothes because then the doll will be cold: ¡Ay qué frío, tiene frío!
‘Oh how cold, [he] is cold!’ First the child indicates that the doll was not
cold, saying: no fío ‘not cold.’ Then, as the experimenter introduces a new
toy to the task, the child shows the doll without clothes to the experimenter,
saying: A fío, a fío for perhaps tiene frío, tiene frío ‘(he) is cold.’ Even though
it is not certain that the child substituted a for the verb tiene, he uses the
MPH a to fill the structural position of another constituent. In the last utter-
ance listed in Example 3.14, a gusta, the child substitutes the objective pro-
noun for the MPH a. This token occurs as a response to the experimenter’s
question regarding a flower: ¿Te gusta? ‘Do you like (it)?’ The child answers
repeating the verb gusta, but substitutes the objective pronoun me for the
MPH a. Utterances listed in Example 3.14 lend support to the hypothesis
that in this child’s grammar, MPH a acts in some contexts as a true MPH,
void of feature content. Nonetheless, to conclude that in all instances this
MPH is void of featural content would be too strong a conclusion, given the
fact that the interpretation of this MPH is confounded by the homophony
present in the Spanish language, that is, it could stand for determiners una
‘a’ or la ‘the,’ for the preposition a as in a jugar ‘to play,’ or for the marker
of objective case a. Alonso’s overall production seems to indicate that he is
on the process of eliminating the “generic” uses of MPH a for MPHs that
have feature content, at least in the case of MPHs used as determiners.
The overall analysis of the MPH/DP production data indicates that these
vocalic elements are more than pre-grammatical fillers, as claimed by some
researchers (Bottari et al. 1993/1994; López Ornat 1997; Mariscal 2008),
but rather shortened approximations of adult-like determiners. Support
for this conclusion is found in the fact that out of the 33 tokens produced
by the three children, 27 were target-like in terms of agreement, that is,
these elements reveal the presence of an agreement relation at work.
Moreover, I found a strong correlation between the production of MPH
e for el ‘the (masc/sg)’ with masculine nouns and MPH a for una ‘a/one’ or
la ‘the’ with feminine nouns. Specifically, out of the 14 tokens of MPH e
produced by the three children, all of them were with masculine singular
nominals, whereas out of the 15 tokens of MPH a produced by the three
children, 11 were with feminine singular nominals.
Children’s vast production of target-like MPH/DPs could be taken as
evidence of the availability of an underlying checking mechanism in early
grammars, responsible for this strong target-like production. However, one
should be careful not to rush to premature conclusions before taking a
careful look at the nature of the agreement patterns these children are
establishing. In order to achieve this goal, I conducted a further data analysis
62 First Language Acquisition in Spanish

to address what Bottari et al. (1993/1994) call the linear agreement hypothesis,
that is, whether children are establishing agreement relations between
MPHs and nominals by matching the phonological nominal endings with
the phonological features of the MPH selected. Notice that this hypothesis,
if proven, supports discontinuous analyses of language acquisition such as
the usage based, in which children’s linguistic development is solely based
on the extraction of input regularities.
The linear agreement hypothesis predicts that if there is any agreement
present in the MPH/DP production data it would be purely phonological,
that is, children would produce MPH o with nouns ending in –o and MHP
a with nouns ending in –a. This hypothesis also predicts that children
will fail to produce target-like agreement with nominals not overtly marked
for gender, as there are no overt clues to guide the matching strategy.
In contrast, the continuity hypothesis would predict that children would be
successful regardless of the presence of overt morphological markings, as
they are guided by an underlying system.
In order to test these hypotheses, the 33 MPH/DP tokens were analyzed
in terms of the relation between the MPH used and the ending of the
nominal, as shown in Table 3.14 and repeated here as Table 3.15.
Crucially, the analysis in Table 3.15 shows that children produced MPHs
a and e with nominals canonically marked for gender (i.e., masculine nouns
ending in –o and feminine nouns ending in –a) as well as with nominals not
overly marked for gender (i.e., nouns ending in the vowels e, í, u or conso-
nants s, z, n, m). Moreover, the majority of nouns produced with MPH e
involved nominals not overtly marked for gender (i.e., 9 out of a total of 15),
whereas the distribution of MPH a was equally divided between nouns

Table 3.15 Overall MPH/DP tokens


Nominal endings Total

Masculine Feminine

Singular Plural Singular Plural

–o –otha –os –oth –a –oth –as –oth

Elián Target-like 3 4 – – 2 2 – – 11
Non-target-like – – – – – – – 1 1
Londa Target-like – 2 – – 2 1 – – 5
Non-target-like – – – – – – – – –
Alonso Target 3 3 1 1 2 1 – – 11
Non-target-like 2 1 – 2 – – – – 5
Total 8 11 1 3 6 3 – 1 33
Gender Agreement 63

canonically marked for gender (7) and non-canonically marked for gender
(8). In particular, the data analysis points to the conclusion that overt mor-
phological clues do not play a significant role in the agreement relations
these children establish, with Londa and Elián uttering an all-target-
like production of MPH/DPs regardless of the nominal ending involved.
Interestingly, Alonso’s production of ungrammatical tokens reveals that
he was as likely to produce non-target-like MPH/DPs with nominals canoni-
cally marked for gender, for example, a caball–o ‘the/a (fem./sg.) horse
(masc./sg.),’ as with nominals unmarked for gender, for example, a guau-
guau ‘the/a fem./sg.) dog (masc./sg.).’ These results support Pizzutto and
Caselli’s (1992), Lleó´s (1997, 2001) and Valian’s (2009b) claim that these
bare vowels produced with nominals carry some of the adult-like feature
information, in this case the gender feature.
Moreover, these findings lend support to the hypothesis that children
acquiring Spanish exhibit target-like agreement relations that go beyond a
phonological matching strategy, for example, a cas–a ‘the house,’ but that
they are building their agreement systems on the basis of feature checking
mechanism, for example, e guaugua–u ‘the dog,’ a man–o ‘the hand.’
Namely, these children are checking the gender feature of the determiners
with that of the nominals they precede. This conclusion brings support to
the Weak Continuity Hypothesis adopted in the present research (Borer &
Rohrbacher 1997; Crain & Thornton 1998; Crain & Wexler 1999; Phillips
1996; Pinker 1984) in that children start the acquisition process with
a grammar governed by the principles of UG, that is, the availability of a
checking mechanism and the corresponding functional categories, such as
the DP. Support for this conclusion is found in the analysis of the agree-
ment patterns these three children establish in (full) DPs, that is, the three
children produced a majority of target-like full DPs with regard to gender
agreement regardless of the nominal endings.
In the next section, I discuss findings on gender agreement in attributive
adjectives, that is, adjectives within the DP, for example, la casa roja ‘the
house red’ (the red house). In addition, the discussion will also include
children’s production of adjectives in predicative structures. Even though
these adjectives are not part of the DP, the agreement patterns children
establish in structures outside the DP serve to create a better picture of
gender agreement as a whole in Spanish early grammar.

3.4.1.2 Adjectival Agreement


This section discusses the gender agreement patterns found in the attribu-
tive adjectives data. Children produced a very limited number of attributive
64 First Language Acquisition in Spanish

adjectives for a total of 18 tokens (once repetitions were excluded), as


seen in Table 3.6 and repeated here as Table 3.16. Notice also in this
table that this was the structure with the lowest production rate. This
result brings support to Mariscal’s (2008) findings on children’s limited
production of attributive adjectives in her study on gender agreement
acquisition.
Two major characteristics define the adjective production of the three
children under analysis. First, there is a marked contrast between the over-
all adjectival production of the two younger children (Elián and Alonso)
and the production of Londa, as illustrated in Table 3.17. This table reveals
that Elián’s and Alonso’s production of attributive adjectives is scarce in
comparison with Londa’s significantly higher number of adjective produc-
tion (χ2 = 116.3, p < 0.01). Table 3.17 also shows that Londa’s production
was equally divided between target-like (9) and non-target-like production
(χ2 = 1.5, p = 0.22). This finding is at odds with her production of other
structures, which was characterized by being mostly target-like.
The second factor that characterizes the attributive adjective production
is that is highly ambiguous in terms of the structure involved (attributive
vs predicative), especially in the case of Elián’s and Alonso’s data, as will
be shown in the following discussion. The production of Elián and Alonso

Table 3.16 Summary of gender non-target-like tokens


Structure Total production Non-target-like gender production Total

Mismatch Default

(Full) DPs 62 1 – 1
MPH/DPs 33 4 – 4
Attributive adjectives 18 – – –
Predicative adjectives 65 – 10 10
Demonstratives 118 6 13 19
Third person clitics 37 1 8 9
Total 333 12 31 43

Table 3.17 Distribution of attributive adjectives


Target /Non-target-like Elián Alonso Londa Total

Target-like (%) 2 (100) 1 (100) 9 (60) 12 (67)


Non-target-like (%) – – 6 (40) 6 (33)
Total (%) 2 (100) 1 (100) 15 (100) 18 (100)
Gender Agreement 65

is examined together because these two children exhibited similar produc-


tion patterns. Elián and Alonso produced a total of three (potentially)
attributive adjectives, as shown in Example 3.15.

Example 3.15
Child utterance Target utterance
(a) *Mira gande (Elián) Mira una/la grande
‘Look (at) big (one)’ ‘Look (at) a/the (fem/sg)
big (one)’
(b) Si cayó, ecito (Elián) Se cayó, pobrecito
‘(he) fell down, poor (masc/sg)’ ‘(he) fell down, poor (masc/sg)’
(c) ¡Mira carito bonito! (Alonso) Mira un carrito bonito
‘Look car (dim/masc/sg) pretty ‘Look a (masc/sg) car (dim/
(masc./sg.)!’ masc/sg) pretty (masc/sg)!’

The examples above illustrate the structural ambiguity present in these


children’s adjectival utterances. Elián uttered Example 3.15(a) spontane-
ously as he picked up the big orange (naranja, or china in the Puerto Rican
dialect) and showed it to the experimenter. In terms of agreement, this
adjective (grand–e) is not overtly marked for gender, so no agreement infor-
mation regarding this feature can be obtained from the adjective itself.
Recall that in Spanish, adjectives ending in the vowel e are invariable with
feminine and masculine nouns. This example can be interpreted as attri-
butive as in mira la grande ‘look the (fem/sg) big (un/sg)[one]’ or mira
encontré la grande ‘look [I] found the (fem/sg) big [one].’ In this interpreta-
tion, the child omitted the obligatorily determiner la ‘the.’ On the other
hand, Example 3.15(a) can also be interpreted as mira, es la grande ‘look [it]
is the (fem/sg) big [one].’ However, the context favors the attributive read-
ing. Crucially, in either interpretation, this example involves the omission
of the determiner that would serve to mark the gender of the (non-overt)
nominal, for example, la grande ‘the (fem/sg) big (unm/sg) [one].’ Elián’s
second example in Example 3.15(b) provides more information regarding
agreement. The child utters the adjective ecito instead of pobrecito ‘poor
(masc/sg) [one]’ (with the masculine word marker –o) to refer to a mascu-
line singular referent, that is, male doll that fell from a chair. This adjective
was interpreted as attributive as in se cayó el pobrecito (muñeco) ‘the (masc/sg)
poor (masc/sg) [doll] fell down,’ in which the adjective is part of the
subject, a context requiring an obligatory determiner. As we have seen,
Elián’s limited production does not lead to any major conclusions regard-
ing agreement; however, both examples seem to involve the omission of an
66 First Language Acquisition in Spanish

obligatory determiner. Elián’s determiner omission in this structure is


consistent with his production of non-target-like bare nominals, that is, this
child omitted determiners in 74 percent of the obligatory contexts, as pre-
sented in Chapter 5.
In Alonso’s case, he produced only one (potentially) attributive adjective,
that is, Example 3.15(c). The child uttered this example spontaneously as
he saw the experimenter taking out a toy car. He marked the masculine and
singular features of the noun carrito (diminutive/masc/sg) in the adjective
bonito ‘pretty’ in a target-like fashion. Nonetheless, Example 3.15(c) also
involves the omission of a determiner, in this case the indefinite determiner
un ‘a.’
In contrast to the production of those two children, Londa produced
a total of 15 instances of attributive adjectives, out of which 9 were target-
like and 6 were non-target-like regarding agreement (see Appendix E for
an exhaustive list). Target-like utterances involved the production of adjec-
tives chiquito ‘small,’ grande ‘big,’ feliz ‘happy,’ and azul ‘blue,’ as shown in
Example 3.16.

Example 3.16
Child Target Referent
(a) No, el quito No, el chiquito [león]
‘No, the (masc/sg) ‘No, the (masc/sg) small
small (masc/sg) (masc/sg) (one)’
(one)’
(b) Yo engo gande Yo tengo el grande [teléfono]
‘I have big (unm/sg) ‘I have the (masc/sg) big
(one)’ (masc/sg) (one)’
(c) Tistre ya anó El triste ya ganó [tren]
‘Sad (unm/sg) (one) ‘The (masc/sg) sad (masc/
already won’ sg)(one) already won’
(d) Feli[h] El feliz [tren]
‘Happy (unm/sg) ‘The (masc/sg) happy
(one)’ (masc/sg) (one)’
(e) Azul El azul [pez]
‘Blue (unm/sg) (one)’ ‘The (masc/sg) blue (masc/
sg) (one)’

The adjectives in 3.16 exhibit a striking characteristic: all of them involve


cases of noun-drop, that is, the adjective appears in isolation. Moreover, in
eight out of the nine target-like examples with respect to agreement, the
child omitted the required determiner, namely, Londa only produced the
Gender Agreement 67

obligatory determiner in Example 3.16(a). This issue will be addressed in


the discussion of her non-target-like production. The examples above also
show target-like agreement patterns in terms of number; however, regard-
ing gender, the results are not transparent because most of the adjectives
produced are not overtly marked for gender (13 out of 15), that is, grand–e
‘big,’ feli–z ‘happy,’ azu–l ‘blue,’ and trist–e ‘sad.’ In Example 3.16(a), Londa
produced the adjective chiquito ‘small (masc/sg) [one]’ to refer to a mascu-
line singular nominal. The context of this utterance was the experimenter
asking the child: ¿Cuál te gusta? ‘Which [one] do you like?’ referring to two
lions, leones. The child answered by pointing at the small lion and saying este
‘this (masc/sg) [one];’ the experimenter followed up by asking the child:
¿El grande? ‘The (masc/sg) big (unm/sg)?’ Crucially, the child marked the
nominal as masculine by saying este ‘this (masc/sg) [one]’ before the exper-
imenter used the masculine article el ‘the (masc/sg)’ in the follow-up ques-
tion. This was the only instance in which Londa produced the required
determiner. The rest of her attributive adjective production, illustrated in
Example 3.16, yields inconclusive results in terms of gender agreement for
two reasons. First, as mentioned above, 13 out of her 15 attributive adjec-
tives are not overtly marked for gender; hence it is not clear if the child is
or is not establishing target-like agreement with respect to gender. Second,
Londa omits the obligatory determiner in 14 out of the 15 attributive adjec-
tive tokens produced. Determiners have a crucial role when they occur
in structures involving unmarked or invariable adjectives, namely, they serve
to mark gender agreement overtly. In Example 3.16(d), for example, Londa’s
production of the adjective feli[h] ‘happy’ is not very informative; in turn
the use of the required determiner el ‘the’ in the adult-like production of
the same phrase, el feliz ‘the (masc/sg) happy (unm/sg) [one]’ serves to
indicate that the underlying gender value of the adjective is masculine.
We turn our attention to Londa’s non-target-like attributive adjective pro-
duction. In her data, two different types of non-target-like instances are
found; the first one refers to a mismatch in the agreement features, and the
second involves the production of bare adjective phrases, that is, phrases
without an obligatory determiner, as mentioned above. All non-target-like
tokens with respect to agreement involved a mismatch of the number
feature. The discussion of these tokens is presented in Chapter 4. The sec-
ond type of non-target-like attributive adjective present in the data consists
of the production of bare adjectival phrases. As mentioned earlier, Londa
produced 14 adjectives without the obligatory determiner out of a total
of 15. Interestingly, in 8 out of the 14 instances of determiner omissions,
the experimenter provided the required determiner in the question.
68 First Language Acquisition in Spanish

Example 3.16(b) illustrates one of these cases. In this example, Londa pro-
duces the adjective grande ‘big (umn/sg)’ to refer to the masculine nominal
teléfono ‘telephone.’ The context of this example is the experimenter’s state-
ment: Mira, yo tengo el chiquito ‘Look, I have the (masc/sg) small (masc/sg)
[one],’ pointing at a small telephone. The child answered by using the
same structure but dropping the determiner, that is, Yo engo gande ‘I have
big (unm/sg) [one].’ These results confirm that the child is neither imitat-
ing the input heard nor learning the nominal and the determiner as a unit.
The analysis of the attributive adjective production reveals several aspects
of these structures. First, they are not very common in children’s produc-
tion, as has been reported in the acquisition literature (e.g., Mariscal 2008;
Snyder, Senghas, & Inman 2001); even when they were elicited by a parti-
cular task, that is, “The race.” As discussed earlier, the two smaller children
barely produced examples of this particular structure, and the older child’s
production was higher, although it does not seem very rich. Second, the
issue of determiner omission seems to be pervasive in this structure. Specifi-
cally, the two younger children produced a total of three utterances and all
three involved the omission of the determiner. Regarding Londa, 14 out of
15 instances produced were examples of determiner omissions. These
results are consistent with the results obtained for [Det-N] structures in
which the three children omitted determiners in 64 percent of the obliga-
tory contexts (see Chapter 5).
These general findings on attributive adjectives were compared with the
production of the two older children, Diana (3;5,27) and Pepe (4;3,10).
Recall the data of these two children are introduced in the discussion when
interesting. In this case, they are introduced to assess the attributive adjec-
tive production of children above the acquisition age of 3;0. Table 3.18
illustrates their production in terms of agreement.
Table 3.18 demonstrates that these two children have already mastered
the adjectival agreement system, displaying perfect target-like production.
Examples of their target-like production are illustrated in Example 3.17.

Table 3.18 Distribution of attributive adjectives: older children


Target/Non-target-like Diana Pepe Total

Target-like (%) 17 (100) 20 (100) 37 (100)


Non-target-like (%) – – –
Total (%) 17 (100) 20 (100) 37 (100)
Gender Agreement 69

Example 3.17
(a) El chiquito ‘The (masc/sg) small (masc/sg) (one)’ (Diana)
(b) La motora roja ‘The (fem/sg) motorcycle (fem/sg)
red (fem/pl)’ (Diana)
(c) Un león chiquito ‘A (masc/sg) lion (unm/sg)
small (masc/sg)’ (Pepe)
(d) La[h] azule[h] ‘The (fem/pl) blue (unm/pl) (ones)’ (Pepe)

Example 3.17 shows that the production of these two older children con-
trasts with that of the three smaller children on several aspects. First, regard-
ing agreement, the examples above show target-like attributive adjective
structures both in the masculine, as in Examples 3.17(a) and 3.17(c), as well
in the feminine, as in Examples 3.17(b) and 3.17(d). As discussed earlier,
Elián, Alonso, and Londa produced attributive structures (overtly marked)
only in the masculine singular. In addition, Diana and Pepe produced struc-
tures involving N-drop, but with the obligatory determiner, for example, el
chiquito ‘the small [one],’ las azules ‘the blue [ones].’ Moreover, in Example
3.17d Pepe produces a target-like utterance in the plural las azules ‘the blue
[ones]’ and with the required determiner las. Finally, Diana’s and Pepe’s
attributive adjective production (17) and (20) respectively, reveals that
these two children produced similar proportions to Londa (15).
Regarding the issue of determiner omissions, Diana omitted the obliga-
tory determiner in two instances:

Example 3.18
Child Target

(a) *Eh, chiquito El chiquito


‘Uh, small (masc/sg) [one]’ ‘The (masc/sg) small (masc/sg) (one)’
(b) *Sí, triste[h] Sí, los tristes
‘Yes, sad (unm/pl)[ones]’ ‘Yes, the (masc/pl) sad (masc/pl) (ones)’

Utterances in Example 3.18 are target-like with respect to agreement, for


example, number and gender features; however, they are non-target-like
with respect to the obligatory determiners omitted. Diana utters Example
3.18(a) as a response to the experimenter’s question: Ese es grande, ¿y yo qué
tengo? ‘That (masc/sg) [one] is big (unm/sg) and what do I have?’ The
target-like answer in the attributive structure assumed here should have
been el chiquito ‘the small (masc/sg) [one].’ Example 3.18(b) is a repetition
70 First Language Acquisition in Spanish

of the experimenter’s phrase: yo tengo los trenes tristes ‘I have the (masc/pl)
trains (unm/pl) sad (masc/pl).’ The child repeats the phrase by dropping
both the nominal trenes ‘trains’ (allowed by the grammar) and the deter-
miner los ‘the (masc/pl),’ which is not allowed in the Spanish grammar.
I should point out that this example presents a certain level of ambiguity.
One could argue for a predicative reading of this particular structure, for
example, Sí son/están tristes ‘Yes, [they] are sad (unm/pl),’ an interpretation
that will make this example adult-like without the determiner.
As we have seen, a comparison between the three children under study
with the two older children (over the age of 3;0) yielded several contrasts.
First, the production of attributive adjectives is, in general, limited, with the
two younger children, Elián and Alonso, barely producing any instances
and the other three children, Londa, Diana, and Pepe, producing a maxi-
mum of 20 examples each. Second, regarding gender agreement, the data
of Diana and Pepe show that these two children have already mastered the
nominal agreement system. This finding is consistent with previous studies
that have claimed that children acquire agreement around the age of 3;0
(Hernández Pina 1984). Third, the issue of determiner omissions is perva-
sive in Londa’s production whereas in the production of the older children
it is almost non-existent, although there are still some cases in Diana’s
production.
The next section focuses on the analysis of agreement in predicative
adjectival structures, that is, adjectives that occur with the copula ‘to be,’ for
example, el caballo es verde ‘the horse is green.’

3.4.1.2.1 Predicative Adjectives


This section explores the agreement relations of predicative adjectives in
terms of the gender feature, that is, adjectives that occur with the copula
‘to be.’ In Spanish, the copula ‘to be’ has a dual representation, namely ser
and estar.

Example 3.19
(a) María es feliz ‘Mary is happy’
(b) María está feliz ‘Mary is happy’

In general terms, these two forms of the copula serve to mark the contrast
between a characteristic that is perceived as permanent (ser) and one that
is perceived as temporary or changeable (estar), that is, ser refers individual-
level predicates whereas estar refers to stage-level predicates (Fernández
Gender Agreement 71

Leborans 1999). In Example 3.19(a) ‘happiness’ is perceived as a perma-


nent characteristic of Mary, whereas in Example 3.19(b) the speaker marks
a change in emotions for Mary, ‘she is happy now.’ The acquisition of the
contrast between these two structures is beyond the scope of this research.
The structure traditionally assumed for predicative adjectives is a Small
Clause, as shown in Example 3.20 for the utterance está sucio ‘[it] is dirty
(masc/sg).’

Example 3.20
Wili está [SC pro (masc/sg) sucio (masc/sg)]

The structure in Example 3.20 shows that predicative adjective agreement


involves the projection of the null subject pronoun, or pro. In particular, the
gender and number features of the adjective sucio ‘dirty’ need to match the
masculine singular features of pro and the nominal Wili.
Table 3.19 illustrates the distribution of the predicative adjectives pro-
duced by the three children in terms of agreement. This table shows that
Elián’s and Alonso’s production of this structure is limited in comparison
with that of Londa, that is, (1), (10), and (66) respectively. These two chil-
dren also show a limited production in attributive structures. In addition,
Londa produced a significantly higher number of adjectives in this struc-
ture than in the attributive one, that is, 15 attributive adjectives versus 66
predicative ones (χ2 = 32.1, p < 0.01).

Table 3.19 Distribution of predicative adjectives utterances


Target /Non-target-like Elián Alonso Londa Total

Target-like (%) 1 (100) 5 (50) 55 (83) 61 (79)


Non-target-like (%) – 5 (50) 11 (17) 16 (21)
Total (%) 1 (100) 10 (100) 66 (100) 77 (100)

Because the production rates of these three children were so different,


each child’s data are discussed on an individual basis. Elián produced only
one example of a (potentially) predicative structure.

Example 3.21
Child Target
Ii cayente está caliente
‘(It) is (permanent) hot (un./sg.)’ ‘(It) is (changeable) hot (unm/sg)’
72 First Language Acquisition in Spanish

The context of Example 3.21 is that the child touched the video camera
and ran back to the experimenter complaining that it was hot. In this utter-
ance the long vowel ii could be interpreted as the copula es as in es caliente
‘it is hot.’ The target-like utterance should have been está caliente because
the child was referring to a changeable state of the camera, that is, the tem-
perature of the camera. Elián produced two additional instances of this
token, but with the adjective in isolation, for example, cayente ‘hot.’ One of
them occurred the first time the child touched the camera, that is, it had
exactly the same context as the previous example. The second instance
occurred in the context of a game: the child told the puppet to sit on a
(turned off) light. When the puppet sat on it, the child turned the light on
and the puppet screamed. The child produced cayente after the puppet
refused to sit on the light saying: ¡No, me quemo! ‘No I will burn (myself)!’
These two adjectives produced in isolation seem to be predicative within
the contexts described. However, because this adjective is not marked
overtly for gender (i.e., it ends on the vowel –e, which could refer to either
gender), it provides no information in terms of the gender agreement.
Alonso produced a total of ten predicative adjective utterances, as shown
in Table 3.19 above, of which five were target-like and five non-target-like in
terms of agreement. His target-like adjectives included three different
adjectives: sucio, duro, and caliente, as illustrated in Example 3.22.

Example 3.22

Child Target Referent


(a) Eee sucio Está sucio [muñeco]
‘(It) is (perm) dirty (masc/sg)’ ‘(It) is (chang) dirty (masc/sg)’
(b) Tá sucio Está sucio [Wili]
‘(It) is (chang) dirty (masc/sg)’ ‘(It) is (chang) dirty (masc/sg)’
(c) Tá sucio Está sucio [Alonso]
‘(It) is (chang) dirty (masc/sg)’ ‘(It) is (chang) dirty (masc/sg)’
(d) Tá iente Está caliente [cámara]
‘(It) is (chang) hot (un/sg)’
(e) Tá duro Está duro [sticker]
‘(It) is hard (masc/sg)’

Example 3.22 illustrates that Alonso’s target-like production of predica-


tive adjectives includes four instances of masculine adjectives and one
instance of an unmarked adjective. Specifically, in 3.22(a) the child gave a
target-like response (in terms of agreement) to the experimenter’s question:
Gender Agreement 73

¿Está limpio? ‘Is [it] clean (masc/sg)?’ with ee sucio for es sucio ‘[it] is (per-
manent) dirty (masc/sg)’ instead of está sucio.12 In this context, the target-
like form of the copula is estar because the child is referring to a state of
dirtiness that can change. Examples 3.22(b) and 3.22(c) were produced
as responses to the experimenter’s follow-up questions: ¿Y Wili? ‘And
Wili (is he dirty)?’ and ¿Y Alonso? ‘And Alonso (is he dirty)?’ respectively. In
these two cases, the child responded in a target-like fashion regarding
agreement and the use of the appropriate form of the copula, the verb estar.
In the three examples discussed above, the masculine singular features of
the adjective sucio matched the masculine singular features of the modified
nominals: muñeco ‘male doll,’ Wili ‘male whale,’ and Alonso ‘the child him-
self.’ In Example 3.22(d) Alonso uttered the adjective caliente ‘hot (unm/
sg)’ to refer to the video camera. As pointed out in the discussion of Elián’s
production, this adjective is not marked overtly for gender, so it provides no
agreement information with regard to gender. Finally, the child produced
the adjective duro ‘hard (masc/sg)’ in 3.22(e) to refer to the fact that it was
hard to unstick a sticker. Notice that all these examples referred to mascu-
line nominals. This is consistent with Alonso’s overall production, in which
the vast majority of his data is in the masculine singular form.
Alonso produced five non-target-like examples of predicative adjectives,
illustrated in Example 3.23.

Example 3.23

Child Target Referent


(a) *Tá sucio Está sucia [bola ‘ball’]
‘(It) is (chang) dirty (masc/sg)’ ‘(It) is (chang) dirty (fem/sg)’
(b) *Tá sucio Está sucia [bola ‘ball’]
‘(It) is (chang) dirty (masc/sg)’ ‘(It) is (chang) dirty (fem/sg)’
(c). *No, ucio No, [está] sucia [media ‘sock’]
‘No, dirty (masc/sg)’ ‘No, (it is –chang.) dirty (fem/sg)’
(d) *tá espierto Está despierta [vaca ‘cow’]
‘(It) is (chang) awake (masc/sg)’ ‘(It)is (chang) awake (fem/sg)’
(e) *Son sucio Están sucios [pies ‘feet’]
‘(They) are (perm) dirty (masc/sg)’ ‘(They) are (chang) dirty (masc/pl)’

In Example 3.23, we can see that Alonso’s non-target-like production


involved two different adjectives, sucio ‘dirty (masc/sg)’ and despierto ‘awake
(masc/sg).’ In addition, the utterances in Example 3.23 present an interest-
ing case on the use of a particular adjective, sucio ‘dirty (masculine/singular),’
74 First Language Acquisition in Spanish

namely the child used this adjective marked as masculine singular to modify
feminine nominals. In Example 3.23(a) the experimenter asked Alonso for
the ball: Préstamelo ‘Lend it (neuter/sg) to me,’ and the child refused by
saying tá sucio ‘(it) is (changeable) dirty (masc/sg).’ In this particular exam-
ple, the experimenter used the neuter form of the clitic pronoun lo ‘it’
(instead of the feminine form la ‘it (fem/sg)’) not to mark the nominal
bola ‘ball (fem/sg)’ as feminine. In the following Example 3.23(b), the
experimenter marked the feminine gender of the nominal bola ‘ball’ in the
demonstrative pronoun: ¿Y esa? ‘And that (fem/sg) [one]?’ pointing at
another ball. Nonetheless, the child gave exactly the same non-target-like
gender response, tá sucio ‘[it] is (changeable) dirty (masc/sg).’ Similarly, in
Example 3.23(c), the experimenter asked the child if the sock was clean,
marking the feminine gender of the nominal media ‘sock (fem/sg)’ in both
the adjective and the clitic: ¿Está limpia? Mírala ‘Is [it] clean (fem/sg)? Look
[at] it (fem/sg)’ as the experimenter showed him a dirty sock. Alonso
answered no, ucio ‘No, dirty (masc/sg).’ Notice that the nominals involved
in these three non-target-like utterances were all canonically marked for the
feminine gender, that is, they all ended in the feminine word marker –a:
bol–a, medi–a. This finding brings support to the conclusion that at this stage
of acquisition the morphophonological clues present in the input are not
vital in the process of establishing agreement, as we saw earlier in the case
of (full) DPs and MPH/DPs. Moreover, this result contradicts Pérez-Pereira’s
(1991) claim that children pay attention to intralinguistic clues such as
morphological endings and syntactic agreement morphemes, in gender
assignment. The difference in the results might be due to developmental
differences between the participants of the two studies. In particular, the
children who participated in the Pérez-Pereira’s study ranged in age from
4 to 11 years old, whereas the children in the present study are under the
age of 3. It is possible that at this earlier stage of acquisition they are not
making use yet of the clues present in the input.
Example 3.23(d) illustrates a non-target-like utterance involving a differ-
ent adjective, that is, the masculine gender feature of the adjective despierto
‘awake’ does not match the feminine feature of the nominal vaca ‘cow
(fem/sg).’ In the context of this utterance, the experimenter instructed
the child to be quiet because the cow was sleeping: Shh, no lo despiertes ‘Ssh,
do not wake him/it up.’ In this utterance, the experimenter used the
masculine (also the neuter form) clitic lo ‘him/it’ not to provide the target
gender cues to the child. The child responded by picking up the cow and
saying: Dame, dame tá despierto ‘Give me, give me [it] is awake (masc/sg).’
The discussion of Alonso’s predicative adjective production brings sup-
port for the hypothesis of a masculine default value for the gender feature
Gender Agreement 75

in this child’s grammar. This was evidenced in his consistent production of


the masculine singular adjective sucio ‘dirty’ to refer to both feminine and
masculine nominals.
In contrast with the other two children discussed above, Londa produced
a high proportion of predicative adjectives (66). An analysis of her produc-
tion reveals a total of 21 different adjectives produced, some of them were
only in the masculine, for example, tá entado for está sentado ‘(he) is seated
(masc/sg),’ and others were only in the feminine, for example, tá[h] fea for
estás fea ‘[you] are ugly (fem/sg).’ However she produced three adjectives
in both genders, as shown in Example 3.24.

Example 3.24
(a) chiquito/chiquita ‘small (masc/fem)’
Este ee ito for Este es chiquito ‘This (masc/sg) (one) is small
(masc/sg)’
No, ita for No, chiquita ‘No, small (fem/sg) (one)’
(b) dormido/dormida ‘asleep (masc/fem)’
Tá domío for Está dormido ‘[He] is asleep (masc/sg)’
Mira tá domida for está dormida ‘Look [she] is asleep (fem/sg)’
(c) sucio/sucia ‘dirty (masc/fem)’
Tá sucio for Está sucio ‘(He) is dirty (masc/sg)’
Tá sucia for Está sucia ‘(She) is dirty (fem/sg)’

In Example 3.24, Londa uses the three adjectives in both genders in a


target-like fashion. Notice that in terms of number all of her adjectives were
marked as singular, but not all of them had singular referents. This issue is
discussed in Chapter 4.
We turn our discussion now to Londa’s non-target-like utterances. Out of
a total of 54 predicative adjective tokens (excluding repetitions) found in
this child’s data, 11 were non-target-like in terms of agreement. Two types
of non-target-like utterances were found in Londa’s data: (a) utterances
that involved a gender mismatch and (b) utterances that involved a num-
ber mismatch. Example 3.25 illustrates the former, and the latter is pre-
sented in Chapter 4.

Example 3.25
Child Target Referent
(a) *Etá abielto Está abierta boca ‘mouth (fem/sg)’
‘(It) is opened (masc/sg)’ ‘(It) is opened (fem/sg)’
(b) *Tá jerrado Está cerrada boca ‘mouth (fem/sg)’
‘[It] is closed (masc/sg)’ ‘[It] is closed (fem/sg)’
76 First Language Acquisition in Spanish

(c) *Toy sentaou Estoy sentada Londa herself


‘I am seated (masc/sg)’ ‘I am seated (fem/sg)’
(d) *Yo stoy contento Yo estoy contenta Londa herself
‘I am happy (masc/sg)’ ‘I am happy (fem/sg)’
(e) *Jojo Roja paleta ‘lollipop(fem/sg)’
‘red (masc/sg)’ ‘red (fem/sg)’

In Example 3.25, Londa produced masculine marked adjectives to


modify feminine nominals. In Examples 3.25(a) and 3.25(b) two masculine
adjectives were used to refer to the feminine nominal boca ‘mouth.’ Specifi-
cally, Londa uttered Example 3.25(a) as a response to the experimenter’s
statement: Y mira ahora ‘And look now’ while opening the mouth of the
snake. The child responded by saying etá bielto for está abierto ‘[It] is opened
(masc/sg).’ The context of Example 3.25(b) was similar, the experimenter
closed the mouth of the snake and asked the child: ¿Y ahora? ‘And now?’
Londa responded with the adjective in the masculine form, for example, tá
jerrado for está cerrado ‘[it] is closed (masc/sg).’ There were two other
instances of the adjective cerrado ‘closed’ but in those the child produced
target-like agreement with a feminine nominal, for example, jerrada for
cerrada ‘closed (fem/sg).’ In the first instance, the experimenter marked
the gender of the nominal: Y mira la boquita, ¿cómo está? ‘And look [at] the
(fem/sg) mouth (diminutive/fem/sg), how is (it)?’ The child responded
with the adjective in the feminine singular form jerrada ‘closed.’ In the
other instance, the experimenter used the demonstrative pronoun in the
masculine gender to refer to the same feminine nominal to see if the child
was copying the pattern used in the question: ¿Y este? ‘And this (masc/sg)
[one]?’ pointing at the mouth of the fish. The child responded target-like
with the feminine marked adjective, for example, tá jerrada for está cerrada
‘[it] is closed (fem/sg).’ The contrast in the production of these target-like
instances with the adjective “closed” and the non-target-like ones in
Examples 3.25(a) and 3.25(b) seem to indicate the presence of a default
value for gender, the masculine one. In Examples 3.25(c) and 3.25(d)
Londa produced masculine adjectives to refer to herself. Specifically, in
Example 3.25(c) the child indicated that she was seated using the adjective
in the masculine form, for example, toy sentao for estoy sentado ‘I am seated
(masc/sg)’ instead of estoy sentada ‘I am seated (fem/sg),’ while in 3.25(d)
she indicated that she was happy using the masculine ending of the adjec-
tive, for example, toy contento ‘I am happy (masc/sg)’ instead of estoy contenta
‘I am happy (fem/sg).’ These two examples seem to indicate that Londa
has not yet acquired natural or semantic gender of animate objects and as
Gender Agreement 77

a result she marks the adjectives with the masculine default value. This find-
ing is supported by Londa’s utterances with demonstrative pronouns in
which she assigned the wrong gender to the horses, as discussed in the next
section.

Example 3.26

Child Target
(a) ése es mamá ésa es la mamá
‘that (masc/sg) (one) is mom (fem/sg)’ ‘that (fem/sg)(one) is the
mom’
(b) ésa es papá ése es el papá
‘that (fem/sg) (one) is dad (masc/sg)’ ‘that (masc/sg) is the dad’

In Example 3.26, Londa assigned family roles to a group of toy horses:


mother, father, and so on. As a result, the assignment of semantic gender
became necessary to match the referents. Londa had difficulty in this task
and assigned the incorrect gender to these nominals with natural gender,
mamá ‘mom’ and papá ‘dad.’ In particular, in Example 3.26(a) she referred
to mamá with the masculine demonstrative ése. This example could be
explained if she was saying ‘this horse (masc/sg) is mom.’ However, in
Example 3.26(b) she used the feminine demonstrative ésa ‘this [one]’ to
refer to the masculine nominal papá ‘dad.’ This result is at odds with
Hernández Pina’s (1984) finding that Rafael (her son) acquired natural
gender before grammatical gender. One possibility is that Rafael was refer-
ring to himself as masculine because he was using the default value not
because he actually knew he was a male, that is, in his case the masculine
default coincided with his natural gender, namely, male.
The last utterance in Example 3.25, presents an interesting case of gen-
der agreement. Specifically, in Example 3.25(e) the child uttered the color
adjective jojo ‘red (masc/sg)’ as a response to her mother’s question: ¿De
qué color es la paleta? ‘What color is the (fem/sg) lollipop (fem/sg)?’ Even
though the noun la paleta ‘the lollipop’ was given to her in the question
with its feminine feature overtly marked, the child uttered the adjective in
the masculine gender. There was a second instance of this token and the
child uttered it as a response to a similar question:

Example 3.27
Experimenter: Pero ¿qué motora ganó?
‘But what motorcycle (fem/sg) won?’
78 First Language Acquisition in Spanish

Child: Esta.
‘This (fem/sg) (one).’
Experimenter: ¿Y de qué color es esa?
‘And what color is that (fem/sg) (one)?’
Child: *Jojo for rojo
‘Red (masc/sg)’

In the dialogue in Example 3.27 the child knew the nominal motora
‘motorcycle (fem/sg)’ was feminine because she has used the feminine
form of the demonstrative pronoun ésta ‘this (one)’ to refer to it. Mariscal
(2008) reports that the children in her study exhibited similar gender
agreement issues with color adjectives. I would like to propose that gender
mismatches with the adjective rojo ‘red’ may be due to the child’s lack of
understanding of the structure used in the question or a structure misinter-
pretation (Socarrás 2003). That is, the child does not know the difference
between two related structures, or has a parsing preference for one of the
possible structures (Crain & Thornton 1998) as in Example 3.28.

Example 3.28
(a) La motora es [SC pro (fem/sg) roja (fem/sg)]
The motorcycle is [SC pro (fem/sg) red (fem/sg)]
(b) La motora es [PP de color (masc/sg) rojo (masc/sg) ]
The motorcycle is [PP of color (masc/sg) red (masc/sg)]

In Example 3.28(a) the adjective roja ‘red’ has to agree with the feminine
noun motora, for example, roja ‘red (fem/sg),’ and in 3.28(b) the adjective
agrees with the masculine nominal color ‘color,’ for example, rojo ‘red
(masc/sg).’ It seems that Londa is establishing agreement with the nominal
color instead of with the nominal motora.
In order to explore the validity of the structure misinterpretation hypo-
thesis, Londa’s results were compared with the predicative adjective pro-
duction of the two older children, Diana and Pepe.
Table 3.20 shows that Diana produced a total of 27 tokens (once repeti-
tions were excluded) of predicative adjectives, out of which 24 were target-
like and 3 non-target-like in terms of agreement. In the case of Pepe, Table
3.20 shows that he produced a total of 50 tokens (excluding repetitions) of
predicative adjectives, out of which 47 were target-like and 3 were non-tar-
get-like. Overall, these two children exhibit an almost perfect production of
predicative adjectives in terms of agreement. Hence we can conclude that
they have acquired the agreement system in this particular structure.
Gender Agreement 79

Table 3.20 Distribution of predicative adjectives: older children


Target/Non-target-like Diana Pepe Total

Target-like (%) 24 (89) 47 (94) 71 (92)


Non-target-like (%) 3 (11) 3 (6) 6 (8)
Total (%) 27 (100) 50 (100) 77 (100)

We turn our attention to the non-target-like production of these two


children. Notice that Diana’s three non-target-like tokens involved gender
assignment with color adjectives.

Example 3.29

(a) Child *Estee ... Ella[h] son ‘Um..They (fem/pl) are yellow
amarillo[h] (masc/pl)’
Target Ellas son amarillas ‘They (fem/pl) are yellow
(fem/pl)’
Referent: mariposas ‘butterflies’
(b) Child *De amarilla ‘Of [the color] yellow
(fem/sg)’
Target (Son) amarillas ‘[They] (are) yellow
(fem/pl)’
Referent: bolas ‘balls’
(c) Child *Son azul ‘(They) are blue (unm/sg)’
Target (Son) azules ‘(They) (are) blue (unm/pl)’
Referent: bolas ‘balls’

Utterances listed in Example 3.29 present two types of non-target-like utter-


ances; the first relates to a gender mismatch, for example, Example 3.29(a),
and the second one involves a number mismatch, for example, Examples
3.29(b) and 3.29(c). Specifically, in Example 3.29(a) Diana uttered the
masculine plural color adjective amarillo[h] ‘yellow’ to refer to the feminine
plural nominal mariposas ‘butterflies.’ This utterance was produced as a
response to the experimenter’s question: ¿Y de qué color son? ‘Of what color
are (they)?’ (What color (masc/sg) are (they)?) In this example, the child
marked the plurality of the nominal with an aspirated s sound h, but failed
to mark the appropriate gender of the feminine referent, mariposas ‘but-
terflies (fem/pl).’ This particular non-target-like utterance is highly unusual
in the overall production data, that is, an agreeing element (an adjective
in this case) being marked with the target-like plural number but with a
80 First Language Acquisition in Spanish

gender mismatch. Of a total of 46 gender mismatches found in the data,


only three involved the target-like marking of the plural number feature
but a non-target-like marking of the gender feature. The other two exam-
ples of this type involved the production of demonstrative pronouns, as
illustrated in Example 3.30.

Example 3.30
(a) Child: *Esto[h] son flore[h] ‘These (masc/pl)are flowers
(unm/fem/pl)’
Target: Estas son flores ‘These (fem/pl) are flowers (unm/
fem/pl)’
(b) Child: *Esto[h] son uita[h] ‘These (masc/pl) are grapes (dim/
fem/pl)’
Target: Estas son uvitas ‘These (fem/pl) are grapes (dim/
fem/pl)’
Referent: [uvas ‘grapes’]

In these two utterances in Example 3.30 Londa produced the demonstra-


tive pronoun Estos ‘these’ in the plural in a target-like fashion, however,
in terms of gender agreement the feminine gender features of the nomi-
nals involved do not match the masculine feature of the demonstrative
pronoun.
Two possible explanations come to mind to account for Example 3.29(a),
repeated here as Example 3.31.

Example 3.31
*Ella[h] son amarillo[h] ‘They (fem/pl) are yellow (masc/pl).’

First, one could argue that this example is the result of the application
of the masculine gender as the default value. However, this hypothesis
cannot account for the fact that this default value was only triggered
with color adjectives, that is, these were the only non-target-like examples
produced by Diana with respect to gender, as discussed earlier. Also notice
that in this example, the child marked the feminine gender in a target-like
fashion on the pronominal ellas ‘they (fem/pl).’ Another possibility is to
argue that the child misinterpreted the structure used in the question to
elicit the color adjective, that is, she was interpreting the structure of the
question as the one in Example 3.32(a) instead of the one in Example
3.32(b).
Gender Agreement 81

Example 3.32
(a) Las mariposas son [PP de color amarillo]
Butterflies are [PP of the color [mas/sg] yellow [mas/sg]]
(b) Las mariposas son [SC pro amarillas]
Butterflies are [PP pro [fem/pl] yellow [fem/pl]]

In Example 3.32(a) the color adjective amarillo ‘yellow (masc/sg)’ agrees


with the masculine singular nominal color ‘color,’ and in Example 3.32(b)
the adjective in the small clause agrees with the features of the pro, which
match the features of the NP las mariposas ‘the butterflies (fem/pl).’ As the
reader might recall, similar non-target-like structures were discussed earlier
in Londa’s data. The difference in this particular case is that Diana’s gram-
mar is at a later developmental stage, hence she is between the two struc-
tural interpretations. In particular, she marked the plural number feature
in a target-like fashion, but still marked the nominal as masculine, amarillo[h]
‘yellow (masc/pl).’ Example 3.29(b), *De amarilla ‘Of yellow (fem/sg)’
illustrates a second instance of the same color adjective. In this instance,
the adjective agrees with the feminine gender of the nominal bolas ‘balls
(fem/pl)’ but there is a mismatch of the number feature. This second
instance occurred in the following context:

Example 3.33
Experimenter: ¿Bolas qué? ¿de qué color?
‘Balls (fem/pl) what? ¿what color (balls)?’
Child: Este... bola[h]
‘Um... balls (fem/pl)’
Experimenter: ¿Bolas de qué color?
‘Balls (fem/pl) (of) what color?’
Child: *De amarilla
‘Of yellow (fem/sg)’

The dialogue shown in Example 3.33, presents Diana’s target-like response


in terms of gender. Interestingly, the child copied the structure of the ques-
tion in her answer de amarilla ‘of yellow,’ instead of amarilla, that is, she used
the preposition de ‘of’ with the color adjective. This utterance seems to
indicate that this child’s grammar interprets the structure in the question
as the structure in Example 3.32(a) above, hence copying the preposition,
that is, las bolas son de color amarillo ‘the balls are of the color yellow.’ Notice
that within the prepositional structural interpretation, only the singular
82 First Language Acquisition in Spanish

number is possible, cf. De color amarillo ‘Of color yellow (masc/sg)’ versus
*De color amarillos ‘Of color yellow (masc/pl).’ The child produced this type
of response with other color adjectives as shown in Example 3.34.

Example 3.34
Experimenter: ¿De qué color es? ‘(Of) what color is (it)?’
Child: *De azul ‘Of blue (unm/sg)
Experimenter: ¿De azul? ‘Of blue?’
Child: De azulito ‘Of blue (diminutive/masc/sg)’

In the Example 3.34 above, Diana uttered again the preposition de ‘of’ with
a color adjective. When the experimenter repeated her response, she con-
firmed her answer by repeating the adjective azul ‘blue’ this time in the
diminutive form azulito ‘blue (dim/masc/sg).’
In her last non-target-like token shown in Example 3.29(c), *son azul
‘[they] are blue (unm/sg),’ Diana uttered the copula in the plural but
the adjective azul in the singular to refer to the plural nominal bolas ‘balls
(fem/pl).’ This token was produced as an answer to the experimenter’s
question: Pero, ¿de qué color? ‘But, (of) what color?’ If our structural misinter-
pretation hypothesis is correct, this answer can be paraphrased as las bolas
son de color azul ‘The balls are of color blue (unm/sg).’ As we have seen,
Diana’s production confirms the prediction made by our hypothesis, that
children would have problems with color adjectives due to the possible
ambiguity in the interpretation of this particular structure, even those that
have mastered agreement.
Pepe’s non-target-like production is discussed next. The analysis of his
production reveals three non-target-like examples with respect to agree-
ment, but only one pertains to the gender feature.

Example 3.35
(a) Child: *Y este veide, veide, y amarillo.
‘And this (masc/sg) [one)] green (unm/sg), green
(unm/sg) and yellow (masc/sg)’
Target: Y esta (es) verde, verde y amarilla
‘And this (fem/sg) [one] green (um/sg), green (unm/sg)
and yellow (fem/sg)’
(b) Child: *Igual a esto[h]
‘Similar (unm/sg) to these (masc/pl)’
Target: Iguales a estos
‘Similar (unm/pl) to these (masc/pl)’
Gender Agreement 83

(c) *Desenmotao
‘[They] (are) disassembled (masc/sg)’
Target: [Están] desmontados
‘[They] (are) disassembled (masc/pl)’

As in the case of Diana, Pepe’s non-target-like production with respect to


gender involved a color adjective, for example, Example 3.35(a). In addi-
tion, Pepe produced two examples involving a number mismatch, for exam-
ple, Examples 3.35(b) and 3.35(c), discussed in Chapter 4. In Example
3.35(a) the masculine feature of the demonstrative determiner este ‘this’ and
the adjective amarillo ‘yellow’ do not match the feminine feature of the refer-
ent, namely the nominal tortuga ‘turtle.’ Notice that Pepe has referred before
to this particular nominal in a target-like fashion, for example, dos
tortuguita[h],una grande y una chiquita ‘two turtles (dim/fem/pl), one (fem/
sg) big (unm/sg) and one (fem/sg) small (fem/sg).’ Nonetheless the inter-
pretation of Example 3.35(a) presents some ambiguity with the availability of
two readings. One possible reading would be one involving the enumeration
of the different colors of the turtle: Y este color es verde, este es verde y este es ama-
rillo ‘and this (masc/sg) color is green, this [one] is green and this [one] is
yellow (masc/sg),’ in which case it would be target-like with respect to the
adjective agreement. The other possible reading would be: Y esta tortuga es
verde, verde y amarilla ‘And this (fem/sg) [one] is green, green and yellow
(fem/sg),’ in which case Example 3.35(a) would be non-target-like because
the masculine gender features of the pronominal este ‘this (one)’ and the
adjective amarillo ‘yellow’ do not match the feminine gender feature of the
nominal tortuga ‘turtle.’ The context of the utterance favors this second
interpretation; Pepe produced Example 3.35(a) as he picked up the turtle,
referring to it with the masculine demonstrative pronominal este. Notice that
this type of non-target-like utterance is similar to the non-target-like utter-
ances discussed earlier involving color adjectives, for example, both Londa
and Diana produced similar non-target-like utterances with color adjectives.
The examination of predicative adjective data leads to several generali-
zations. First, there is a marked contrast between the production levels
of Elián and Alonso and the production of Londa (χ2 = 11, p < 0.01). In
the former two cases, the production is extremely limited and only in the
masculine gender, whereas in the latter, her production is comparable to
the production of the two older children, Diana and Pepe, that is, Londa
(54 tokens), Diana (27 tokens), and Pepe (50 tokens). Second, regarding
the availability of default values for the features gender and number, the
data of the three younger children showed evidence for masculine as the
84 First Language Acquisition in Spanish

default value for gender. In particular, Alonso and Londa produced mascu-
line singular predicative adjectives to refer to feminine singular nominals,
for example, *Tá sucio (Alonso) ‘[It] is dirty (masc/sg)’ instead of Está sucia
‘[It] is dirty (fem/sg)’ to refer to the feminine nominal media ‘sock.’ Third,
the data of the two older children revealed that the vast majority of their
utterances were target-like, for example, Diana (3 non-target-like out of 27)
and Pepe (3 non-target-like out of 50). This was not true in the data of the
younger children; specifically Alonso produced 5 non-target-like utterances
out of a total of 10 (50 percent) and Londa produced 11 non-target-like
utterances out of 54 tokens (20 percent). In Alonso’s case, the difference
between target and non-target-like production is not significant. On the
other side, Londa produced a significantly higher number of target-like
predicative adjectives (χ2 = 19, p < 0.01). In addition, the analysis showed
that non-target-like utterances in this structure pertained to both gender
and number mismatches (see Chapter 4). In the former, it involved the
application of the masculine default value to both feminine and masculine
nominals and the apparent difficulty in the interpretation of the structure
used to elicit color adjectives. Notice that this particular result pertaining to
a non-target-like gender production was not found in the attributive data,
that is, all the non-target-like production involving adjectives in attributive
structures involved a number mismatch. This contrast in targetness points
to a difference in the acquisition of these two structures, with attributive
adjective acquisition preceding predicative one. Moreover, notice that the
production data on attributive adjectives patterns with that of full DPs, that
is, in both structures non-target-like production was circumscribed to num-
ber mismatches. In the case of predicative adjectives, the acquisition data of
this structure parallels the acquisition of demonstratives, in which both
gender and number mismatches were found.
In the next section gender agreement in pronominals is examined; in
particular in demonstrative and clitic pronouns produced by children
under study.

3.4.1.3 Demonstrative Pronouns and Third Person Clitic Pronouns


This section discusses the agreement patterns exhibited in the production
of demonstrative pronouns and third person clitic pronouns. These two pro-
nominal constituents were included in the data analysis to collect additional
information on initial agreement relations children establish in order to
obtain a broader view of agreement in Spanish early grammars. In addition,
the analysis of these pronominals sheds some light on the availability of
Gender Agreement 85

default values in Spanish child language. As in the case of the other con-
stituents included in the present analysis, these pronominals also mark
overtly the gender and number features, as illustrated in Example 3.36.

Example 3.36
(a) esta tiene mucha[h] manchita[h] (Pepe)
‘this (fem/sg) (one) has many spots’
(b) Y este mira (Alonso)
‘And this (masc/sg) (one) look’
(c) A comer eso (Elián)
‘To eat that (neuter)’

Utterances listed in Example 3.36 illustrate how demonstrative pronouns


and third person clitics, in particular direct object pronouns, agree with the
features of the nominals they refer to. In 3.36(a), the demonstrative esta
‘this [one]’ is marked with the same agreement features of the noun vaca
‘cow (fem/sg),’ whereas in 3.36(b) the demonstrative este ‘this (masc/sg)
[one]’ agrees with the nominal it refers to, caballo ‘horse (masc/sg).’ These
demonstrative pronouns are also interesting because they offer a third con-
trast regarding gender, that is, the neuter gender as in shown in Example
3.36(c). In this example, the neuter pronominal esto ‘this (neuter-generic)’
refers to a generic entity, in this case to the grama ‘grass.’ The analysis of this
three-way gender contrast (i.e., masculine-feminine-neuter) could shed
light on how the children under study treat these neuter forms. On the one
hand, they could treat them as the masculine demonstrative form given
the fact that these neuter forms have the canonical mark for this gender
(namely final –o), for example, est–o ‘this,’ es–o ‘that,’ aquell–o ‘that (over
there).’ Moreover, the masculine plural forms are marked with the –os, for
example, estos ‘these,’ esos ‘those,’ aquellos ‘those (over there).’ On the other
hand, children might treat the neuter gender as a completely distinct gen-
der, namely a gender with a more generic reference.
Regarding the third person clitic pronouns, in particular, direct object
pronouns, these could also provide information on the agreement rela-
tions between these pronouns and the nominals they refer to, as seen in
Example 3.37.

Example 3.37
(a) ¿Tú lo viste? (Diana) ‘Did you see him (masc/sg)’
(b) Sácala (Alonso) ‘Take it (fem/sg) off’
(c) Coelo[h] (Alonso) ‘Take them (masc/pl)’
86 First Language Acquisition in Spanish

Third person clitics (direct object pronouns) mark both the number and
gender features overtly, as illustrated in Example 3.37. In Example 3.37(a)
the masculine singular clitic lo ‘it’ agrees with the masculine singular fea-
tures of the nominal it refers to, that is, nene ‘boy (masc/sg),’ whereas in
3.37(b) the clitic pronoun la ‘it’ marks overtly the feminine singular fea-
tures of the noun it refers to, that is, ropa ‘clothing.’ On the other hand,
Example 3.37(c) illustrates how the masculine plural feature of the clitic
pronoun los ‘them’ agrees with the corresponding features of the nominal
caballos ‘horses (masculine/plural).’

3.4.1.3.1 Demonstrative Pronouns


The analysis of the demonstrative pronoun production reveals that the
children under study produced a total of 165 utterances involving a
demonstrative pronoun, as seen in Table 3.21. This table also shows that
Londa produced four times more instances than Elián and Alonso, for a
total of 128 utterances involving a demonstrative pronoun. Moreover, this
table also indicates that the three children produced significantly more
target-like demonstrative pronouns than non-target-like ones (χ2 = 80.15,
p < 0.0001).
An examination of the 165 demonstrative pronouns produced by the
three children yielded a total of 119 tokens of demonstrative pronouns
(once repetitions were eliminated), out of which 19 (16 percent) were non-
target-like with respect to agreement.
Table 3.22 points to the fact that the overall demonstrative pronoun pro-
duction of the three children can be characterized as mostly masculine
and neuter in terms of gender; and singular in terms of number, that is,
masculine singular demonstratives represent for 40 percent of utterances
and neuter demonstrative pronouns accounted for 45 percent. A possible
explanation for the abundant production of neuter demonstratives could
be the fact that Spanish allows the use of neuter demonstratives to refer to
both masculine and feminine nominals (as well as plural ones) in certain

Table 3.21 Distribution of demonstrative pronouns


Target/Non-target-like Elián Alonso Londa Total

Target-like (%) 8 (80) 21 (78) 111 (88) 140 (85)


Non-target-like (%) 2 (20) 6 (22) 17 (12) 25 (15)
Total (%) 10 (100) 27 (100) 128 (100) 165 (100)
Gender Agreement 87

Table 3.22 Demonstrative pronoun tokens


Masculine Feminine Neuter Total

Singular Plural Singular Plural

Elián Target-like 4 – – – 3 7
Non-target-like 1 – – – 1 2
Alonso Target-like 4 1 – – 13 18
Non-target-like 3 – – – 1 4
Londa Target-like 29 8 4 1 33 75
Non-target-like 7 2 2 – 2 13
Total (%) 48 (40) 11 (9) 6 (5) 1 (1) 53 (45) 119 (100)

contexts, given the fact that there are no nominals marked as neuter in this
language, for example, esto es un perro ‘this (neut) is a (masc/sg) dog (masc/
sg);’ esto es una silla ‘this (neut) is a (fem/sg) chair (fem/sg).’ The majority of
the masculine and neuter pronouns produced were target-like as can be seen
in Table 3.22. Specifically, 13 (4.5 percent) out of a total of 59 masculine
demonstrative tokens were non-target-like and 4 (13.3 percent) out of 53
neuter demonstrative tokens were non-target-like with respect to agreement.
We will turn our attention to the 19 non-target-like demonstrative
pronoun tokens produced by the three children. Notice that all the non-
target-like demonstrative tokens involved the gender feature, the focus
of the present chapter. In particular, the most common type of non-adult
like production involved the use of a masculine demonstrative to refer to a
feminine nominal, accounting for 13 out of a total of 19 non-target-like
demonstratives produced. First in Elián’s production, two non-target-like
demonstratives were found.

Example 3.38

Child Target
(a) *Eso Ese
‘That (neut)’ ‘This (masc/sg) (one)’
(b) *Ese e una Esa es una
‘That (masc/sg) (one) is one (fem/sg)’ ‘That (fem/sg) (one) is
one (fem/sg)’

The context of Example 3.38 was the experimenter asking the child: ¿Cuál
quieres? ‘Which one [of the cats] do you want?’ The child responded with
88 First Language Acquisition in Spanish

the demonstrative in the neuter gender *eso ‘that’ as he took one of the cats.
The target-like answer should have been a demonstrative in the masculine
gender, that is, este ‘this [one]’ or ese ‘that [one].’ A possible explanation for
this non-target-like example could be that the child does not understand
yet the difference between qué ‘what’ versus cuál ‘which [one].’ Notice that
if the question had been ¿qué quieres? ‘what do you want?’ the child’s answer
would have been target-like, that is, eso ‘that (neuter-stuff).’ Another possi-
bility is that Elián was using eso instead of the masculine determiner ese in an
attempt to regularize the paradigm, that is, the child used the canonical
masculine gender mark –o.13 However, no conclusions can be reached given
this child’s limited production. The second non-target-like utterance pro-
duced by Elián involves a mismatch of the gender feature, as shown in
Example 3.38(b). Elián uttered the masculine singular demonstrative *este
‘this [one]’ to refer to mariposa ‘butterfly’ a feminine singular nominal.
Notice that in this same example the child produced the feminine pronoun
una ‘one’ in agreement with the nominal mariposa. This example might
point towards the presence of a default gender value for the demonstrative
pronouns, that is, the masculine gender.
In the case of Alonso, his four non-target-like utterances were of two kinds
as illustrated in Example 3.39.

Example 3.39

Child Target
(a) *So[h] Wili Ese es Wili
‘This (neut) is Willy’ ‘This (masc/sg) [one] is Willy’
(b) *Toa, ese[h] tuyo Toma, esa es tuya
‘Take, that (masc/sg) ‘Take, that (fem/sg) [one] is yours
[one] is yours (masc/sg)’ (fem/sg)’
(c) *Te[h] tuyo Esta es tuya
‘This (masc/sg) [one] is ‘This (fem/sg)[one] is yours (fem/sg)’
yours (masc/sg)’
(d) *Ese es tuyo Esa es tuya
‘That (masc/sg)[one] is ‘That (fem/sg)[one] is yours (fem/sg)’
yours (masc/sg)’

The first type of non-target-like utterance involved the production of the


neuter demonstrative eso ‘that [generic reference]’ instead of ese ‘that
(masc/sg)(one)’ to refer to his toy Willy, as shown in Example 3.39(a).
Alonso produced only one instance of this type. The second type of non-
target-like utterance produced by Alonso, consisted on the use of the mas-
culine demonstrative pronoun to refer to feminine nominals, as illustrated
Gender Agreement 89

in Examples 3.39(b) to 3.39(d). In particular, non-target-like utterances in


Examples 3.39(b) and 3.39(c) involved the use of the masculine demon-
stratives to refer to the feminine nominals serpiente ‘snake’ and flor ‘flower’
respectively. Notice that in these two examples the pronouns referred to
feminine nominals that were not overtly marked for gender. In Example
3.39(d), Alonso produced the masculine demonstrative ese ‘that (one)’ to
refer to the feminine nominal motora ‘motorcycle.’ Notice that in this case
the child uses a masculine pronoun to refer to motora even though the
nominal is canonically marked for gender (ending in –a). Alonso’s non-
target-like demonstratives seem to point to the presence of an initial default
value for gender, namely, the masculine one. Moreover, there are indica-
tions in his production that morphophononological clues present in the
input play no decisive role in gender assignment.
Londa produced a total of 17 non-target-like demonstrative pronouns
(see Appendix C for a list). A total of 13 non-target-like demonstrative
tokens were found in her data, once repetitions were eliminated. Three
types of non-target-like utterances were found in this child’s data. The first
type relates to the use of masculine demonstratives to refer to feminine
nominals; the vast majority of utterances (9 out of 13 tokens) were of this
type. The second type of non-target-like utterance involves the opposite
case, that is the use of a feminine demonstrative to refer to a masculine
nominal (two tokens of this type were found). Finally, Londa produced two
non-target-like instances involving the use of a neuter pronoun to refer to a
masculine nominal, as in the case of the other two children.

Example 3.40
Child Target
(a) *Este ona Esta funciona [luz ‘light’]
‘This (masc/sg)[one] works’ ‘This (fem/sg)[one] works’
(b) *Este e sita Esta es [una] casita [casa ‘house’]
‘This (masc/sg)[one] is house’ ‘This is (a) house (dim/fem/sg)’
(c) *Estos son uitas Estas son uvitas [uvas ‘grapes’]
‘These (masc/pl) are grapes ‘These (fem/pl) are grapes (dim/
(dim/fem/pl)’ fem/pl)’
(d) *Esa[h] papá Ese es papá [caballo ‘horse’]
‘This (fem/sg) [one] is dad’ ‘This (masc/sg)[one] is the dad’
(e) *Esto Este [pez ‘fish’]
‘This (neuter)’ ‘This (masc/sg) [one]’
(f) *Esto lo senta Este lo siento
‘This (neuter) (he/she) sits him’ ‘This (masc) [one](I) seat him’
90 First Language Acquisition in Spanish

In Examples 3.40(a) to 3.40(c) Londa uses masculine demonstrative pro-


nouns to refer to feminine nominals. Specifically in Example 3.40(a) the
child utters este ‘this (one)’ to refer to the feminine noun luz ‘light,’ whereas
in 3.40(b) she produces the same masculine pronoun to refer to the femi-
nine nominal casita ‘little house.’ In this particular example, the referent of
the utterance was a sad face painted on top of a light, not the light itself.
Example 3.40(c) involves the same type of non-target-like utterance, in this
case the production of the masculine plural form of the demonstrative
pronoun estos ‘these (ones)’ to refer to the feminine plural nominal uvitas
‘little grapes.’ Example 3.40(d) is of a different nature. It involves the use
of the feminine demonstrative esa ‘that (one)’ to refer to the masculine
nominal papá ‘dad.’ In this particular token, the notion of natural gender
is involved in the assignment of the gender feature, that is, the child has
assigned prototypical family roles to the horses: mom, dad, babies. In addi-
tion to this example, Londa produced a similar one to refer to the mom
horse: ese[h] mamá ‘this (masc/sg) is mom.’ In this instance one could argue
that the masculine demonstrative is referring to the nominal horse as in ese
caballo es la mamá ‘that (masc/sg) horse (masc/sg) is the mom.’ Nonethe-
less, there is additional evidence that Londa has some difficulties with the
assignment of natural gender, as shown in the discussion of predicative
adjectives, for example, Londa produced the masculine adjective to refer
to herself: toy contento for estoy contento ‘I am happy (masc/sg).’ Finally, in
Examples 3.40(e) and 3.40(f) the child uttered the neuter pronoun esto
‘that’ to refer to a specific masculine referent. In particular, Example
3.40(e) was produced as a response to the experimenter’s question ¿cuál es
el azul? ‘which is the blue (one)?’ Notice that Elián’s non-target-like utter-
ance with the neuter pronoun involved exactly the same type of question,
namely, the wh-element cuál ‘which one.’ As we noted earlier, this might be
an indication that children at the earlier stages of acquisition have not
established yet the contrast in interpretation between ‘which’ and ‘what.’
In Example 3.40(f) Londa spontaneously referred to a male doll using
the neuter pronoun *esto instead of the target masculine pronominal este.
This last example could be an overgeneralization of the masculine word
marker –o to regularize the demonstrative paradigm from the adult-like
este/estos to esto/estos.
Londa’s non-target-like examples point to the existence of a default value
for gender in her grammar, namely, the masculine value. Moreover, it is
interesting that she has produced some of the nominals in Example 3.40 in
a target-like fashion both with a full determiner as well as with an MPH, for
example, a lu[h] ‘the (fem./sg.) light (fem./sg.);’ una sita ‘a/one *fem/sg)
Gender Agreement 91

small house.’ This contrast might point to the fact that the child’s problem
in establishing target-like agreement relations resides on the nature of the
agreement with the pronominal demonstratives.
The discussion of the production data on demonstrative pronouns con-
sistently supports the masculine value as default for the gender feature.
Moreover, these findings are in contrast with those of the full DPs and
MPH/DPs; although non-target-like demonstrative pronouns involved a
mismatch of the gender feature, non-target-like DPs and MPHs involved a
mismatch of the number feature. Regarding reference, no mismatches
were found between number feature encoded in the demonstratives and
those of the referents.

3.4.1.3.2 Third Person Clitic Pronouns


This section focuses on the analysis of the agreement patterns exhibited in
the production of third person clitic pronouns, in particular, third person
direct object pronouns. A total of 43 clitics was found in the data, distrib-
uted as follows: Alonso (30), Londa (9), and Elián (4), as can be seen in
Table 3.23. This table also shows that Alonso produced more than three
times the number of clitics pronouns in comparison to the other two chil-
dren. Regarding gender, the majority of clitics produced were masculine
(33 out of 43 were masculine). However, not all of them were target-like.
Specifically, an analysis of Alonso’s production reveals that 9 out of the
24 masculine clitics produced referred to feminine nominals. In terms of
number, the analysis of the data showed that the vast majority of the clitics
produced were singular and they referred to singular objects; this issue will
be discussed in Chapter 4.
Now we will turn our attention to the non-target-like utterances with
respect to gender. The three children produced a total of 13 non-target-
like clitic pronouns (see Appendix D for a list). Overall, the most common

Table 3.23 Clitic pronouns production


Target/Non- Elián Alonso Londa Total
target-like
Masculine Feminine Masculine Feminine Masculine Feminine

Target-like (%) 2 1 15 5 5 2 30
Non-target-like (%) – 1 9 1 2 – 13
Total (100%) 2 2 24 6 7 2 43
92 First Language Acquisition in Spanish

type of non-target-like utterance (10 out of 13) was the use of the masculine
clitic pronoun lo ‘it’ to refer to a feminine noun, as illustrated in the
Example 3.41.

Example 3.41
Child Target
(a) Londa: A abilo [Vamos] a abrirla [casa ‘house]
‘To open it (masc/sg)’] ‘[We are going] to open it (fem/sg)’
(b) Londa: Yo lo encendo Yo la enciendo [luz ‘light’]
‘I turn it (masc/sg) on’ ‘I turn it (fem/sg) on’
(c) Alonso: Sácalo Sácala [ropa ‘cloths’]
‘Take it (masc/sg) [off]’ ‘Take it (fem/sg) [off]’
(d) Alonso: Se lo come Se la come [serpiente]
‘[It] eats it (masc/sg)[up]’ ‘(It) eats it (fem/sg) [up]’

In the examples above, Alonso and Londa produced the masculine clitic lo
‘it’ to refer to feminine nominals, both canonically marked for gender as in
Examples 3.41(a) and 3.41(c), as well as non-canonically marked nominals,
as in Examples 3.41(b) and 3.41(d). This points to the fact that these chil-
dren are not making use of the available linguistic clues in the input. Notice
that these children produced target-like utterances with these nominals in
other structures, for example, una sita ‘a/one (fem/sg) small house (fem.
/sg.),’ (Londa), or in the same type of structure, for example, sácala ‘take
it (fem/sg)(out),’ (Alonso).
In addition to the non-target-like utterances discussed above, one other
instance of non-target-like production was found in the data.

Example 3.42
Alonso: Vo gadarla ‘(I) am going to put it (fem/sg)[away]’
Target: Voy a guardarlos ‘(I) am going to put them (masc/pl) [away]’
Referent: *[bloques ‘blocks’]

Example 3.42(a) is different than the previous non-target-like utterances


because it involves a total mismatch of both the gender and the number
features. Alonso utters the feminine singular clitic, la ‘it’ to refer to bloques
‘toy blocks’ a masculine plural nominal. Notice that this nominal is not
overtly marked for gender and as a result, could be interpreted by the
child as feminine or masculine. However, because the child did not “name”
the toy blocks, it is not clear to what nominal he was actually referring to,
Gender Agreement 93

for example, a possibility is cosas ‘things,’ as in Voy a guardarlas ‘I am going


to put away the things.’
The analysis of the production data on third person clitic pronouns
brings strong support to the hypothesis of the masculine gender as the ini-
tial default value for these pronouns in the grammar of the children under
study, that is, 10 out of a total of 13 non-target-like utterances involved the
production of the masculine clitic lo with feminine nominals, both canoni-
cally marked for gender and non-canonically marked. Moreover, the analy-
sis of these pronominals points to the fact that children under the age of 3;0
do not seem to be paying attention to the morphophonological clues avail-
able in the input to create target-like agreement relations. This finding
does not support the hypothesis that children are acquiring language
mostly based on the regularities of the input.
In sum, the analysis of the experimental data on gender agreement
yielded several overall conclusions regarding the acquisition of this feature.
First, the three children under study produced target-like gender agree-
ment in the majority of utterances involving (full) DPs and MPH/DPs. This
points to an earlier start in the acquisition process than the one presented
in most of the literature reviewed. Second, the children under study estab-
lished target-like agreement regardless of nominal ending (canonical vs
non-canonical), bringing support for the availability of a checking mecha-
nism in early grammars. Third, the present study finds strong evidence for
the availability of a gender default value in Spanish early grammars, that is,
the majority of gender non-adult-like utterances involved the production of
masculine marked constituents to refer to feminine nominals. I proposed
that this is an acquisition strategy used by early grammars in order to con-
verge. Fourth, the analysis points to the following contrast in the acqui-
sition of gender agreement: children seem to have acquired gender
agreement in structures involving overt nominals (e.g., full DPs and MPH/
DPs), whereas they seem to have difficulties with structures involving non-
overt nominals, for example, predicative adjective structures, demonstra-
tive and clitic pronouns. This might reflect the complexity involved in
spelling out the non-overt features of these nominals. Finally, the current
research brings support to previous research on the pervasive nature of
determiner omission in child language, which adds another variable to the
complex process of child language data analysis.
Chapter 4

Number Agreement

4.1 Number Agreement

The number feature receives two values in Spanish, singular or plural, with
plurality being marked formally by the allomorphs (–s, –es) and singularity
carrying the zero mark or left unspecified (Alcina & Blecua 1983). This
points out a contrast between number and gender morphology in terms of
acquisition, namely, children acquiring Spanish need to mark nominals,
and their agreeing constituents, with gender morphology, while they have
the “option” (although not grammatical) of leaving the number feature
unspecified, that is, producing nominals in the singular. Therefore, the ref-
erent of the utterance becomes of extremely important in the assessment
of the acquisition of number, that is, while singular utterances such as una
casa ‘a house’ might be grammatical in terms of morphological agreement,
they might be ungrammatical if used to refer to ‘many houses.’ This aspect
would be addressed in this chapter.
In general the selection between the plural marker allomorphs –s and –es
is mostly based on phonological stress patterns of the language. Most nomi-
nals in Spanish follow these basic rules of pluralization: (1) words that end
in an unstressed vowel take –s as the mark of plural, for example, libro/libro–s
‘book/books;’ (2) words ending in consonants (except –s) or a stressed
vowel (except –e) form their plural by adding –es, for example, jamón/
jamon–es ‘ham/hams,’ tabú/tabú–es ‘tabu/tabus;’ (3) nouns ending in a
stressed –é form their plural by adding only –s, for example, bebé/bebé–s ‘baby/
babies’ (see Ambadiang 1999 for a complete discussion of number morpho-
logy). As a result, a child acquiring Spanish needs to be aware of all these
morphophonological restrictions involved in the pluralization process.
In addition to the phonological restrictions described, plural formation is a
very complex process because it involves the semantics of pluralization, which
goes beyond the distinction between ‘one’ and ‘more than one’ depending
on the noun type involved, as pointed out by Prado (1989). For example, an
Number Agreement 95

abstract noun like cólera ‘anger,’ becomes concrete and countable when it is
pluralized, acquiring the meaning of ‘acts or instances’ of the abstraction
cóleras; a concrete nominal like esposa ‘wife’ suffers a complete change in
meaning when pluralized: esposas ‘handcuffs’ or ‘wives.’
Bosque’s (1999) examination of a four-way classification for common
nouns illustrates the complexity involved in the pluralization process: (1)
count/mass nouns, for example, casa ‘house’ versus aire ‘air;’ (2) nouns
that can be numbered/pluralia tantum, for example, libro/dos libros ‘book/
two books’ versus celos ‘jealousy;’ (3) single/collective, for example, árbol
‘tree,’ versus ejército ‘army;’ (4) abstract/concrete, for example, verdad
‘truth’ versus flor ‘flower.’ As Bosque points out, this noun classification is
not strict, that is, nominals can belong to more than one classification.
Of particular interest for the present research is the distinction between
mass and count nominals, that is, whether children distinguish between
mass and count nominals by pluralizing the latter but not the former. Accord-
ing to Bosque, the contrast between mass and count nominals has the most
syntactic consequences. First, the nature of the nominal determines the
presence or absence of a determiner, as shown in Example 4.1.

Example 4.1
(a) Esto es *libro *‘This is book’ (cf. Esto es un libro ‘This is a book’)
(b) Esto es pan ‘This is bread’
(c) Quiero un pan ‘(I) want a bread’
(d) Quiero pan ‘(I) want bread’
(e) *Cae niño *‘Falls child’ (cf. Cae un/el niño ‘A/the child falls’)
(f) Cae agua ‘Water falls’
(g) *Entra mujer ‘Woman enters’ (cf. Una/la mujer entra ‘A/the woman
enters’)
(h) Entra frío ‘Cold enters’

Example 4.1 indicates the contrast in grammaticality and interpretation


between mass and count nominals with the presence or absence of a deter-
miner. First, Examples 4.1(a) and 4.1(b) show that count singular nominals
like libro ‘book’ require the presence of a determiner, while mass nominals
like pan ‘bread’ are grammatical without it. Second, Examples 4.1(c) and
4.1(d) illustrate that the presence or absence of the article determines the
interpretation of the noun; that is, pan ‘bread’ has a mass interpretation
without the determiner quiero pan ‘I want bread,’ whereas it has a count
interpretation with the determiner, for example, quiero un pan ‘I want a
(loaf of) bread.’
96 First Language Acquisition in Spanish

The previous discussion of number reveals the complexity involved in the


acquisition of number, which goes beyond the comprehension of the differ-
ence between ‘one’ and ‘more than one.’ First, the learner has to distin-
guish among the different nominal types, given the fact that the semantics
of pluralization are closely linked with the noun type involved in the pro-
cess. Specifically, a child has to learn the contrast between mass and count
nouns and the syntactic and semantic consequences that the use of each of
these N-types entails. Among them are singular count nouns that require
the use of a determiner and mass nominals that do not. Moreover, the use
of a determiner with a mass nominal entails a process of recategorization
from mass to count, for example, agua ‘water’ versus tres aguas ‘three waters
(meaning three classes of water).’ Furthermore, the acquisition of number
is closely related to the acquisition of determiners and the different inter-
pretations that the presence or omission of a determiner conveys, for exam-
ple, the contrast between generic (e.g., me gustan los caballos ‘I like horses’)
versus existential interpretations (e.g., Los caballos tienen patas ‘Horses have
legs’). This complexity could explain the delay attested in the acquisition of
number (e.g., López Ornat 1997, 2003; Marrero & Aguirre 2003; Pizzuto &
Caselli 1992) not because children do not comprehend the concept of plu-
rality per se, but because of the confounding factors involved in the deci-
sion of marking the plurality of a nominal.
The rest of the chapter is organized in three sections. Section 4.2 dis-
cusses the availability of a default value for the number feature, in particu-
lar, a Universal Grammar (UG) semantic parameter on noun interpretation,
the Nominal Mapping Parameter and its implications for the acquisition of
DPs in Spanish (Chierchia 1998a, 1998b) and the experimental results
on that issue. Section 4.3 presents previous research on the acquisition of
number agreement in Spanish, while Section 4.4 discusses the experimen-
tal results of the present research on the nature of number agreement in
Spanish early grammars.

4.2 Initial Default Value for Number

This section discusses evidence in support of the availability of a default


value for the number feature in Spanish early grammar. Two hypotheses are
explored regarding the nature of this default value and their explanatory
adequacy is addressed. The first one argues that singular is the unmarked
value for number in Spanish grammar, as pointed out by Harris (1991),
among others. Notice that Harris’ hypothesis only refers to the Spanish
Number Agreement 97

language as it is based on the morphophonological characteristics specific


to Spanish. In terms of acquisition, Harris’ hypothesis predicts that chil-
dren acquiring Spanish number morphology, will master the singular
value first, as it does not carry any overt morphological mark. Moreover,
this hypothesis predicts that the acquisition data will show children’s
overgeneralization of the singular number feature, expressed as the pro-
duction of singular DPs to refer to plural referents. Notice this aspect of the
acquisition of number has not been addressed by many acquisition studies
because it involves a joint analysis of morphological number markings
and the utterance referent.1 The present study examines children’s produc-
tion of unmarked plurals, that is, nominals produced without the plural
marker –(e)s to refer to plural referents. Within this topic, the present study
first explores children’s comprehension of number, that is, one versus more
than one, in order to determine whether children’s non-marking of plural-
ity is cognitive in nature.
As we will see in the following sections, the predictions made by Harris’
hypothesis are borne out by the acquisition data. For example, some of the
studies conducted on number acquisition in Spanish state that children go
through three stages in the acquisition of number: no overt morphological
marking stage, only one constituent marked for number, and extension of
morphological markings to all constituents involved in the number agree-
ment concord (Marrero & Aguirre 2003).
The second hypothesis explored in this chapter is based on a Universal
Grammar semantic parameter on noun phrase interpretations, the Noun
Mapping Parameter (Chierchia 1998a, 1998b), and proposes that the initial
value for number is mass. Chierchia argues that languages differ in the
way the noun category is mapped to its meaning, that is, as predicates or
as arguments. He explains that the discourse universe is thought of as a
domain U of individuals. Predicates are used to talk about our universe
of discourse. In this sense, predicates are not constituents of the world as
individuals are; rather they are something that when applied to individuals
yield something true or false. In turn, arguments are of two types: individu-
als and quantifiers, for example, a DP like the cat denotes an individual; and
a quantificational DP like a cat, quantifies over individuals.2
Furthermore, Chierchia (1998b) states that while proper names map into
individuals, common nouns sometimes play the role of proper names (e.g.,
they are used in English to refer to kind: gold is abundant); and sometimes
they act as predicates (e.g., they are used to restrict the range of quantifiers:
every cat). In particular, Chierchia argues that common nouns have three
options when they enter the semantic computation, that is, they might
98 First Language Acquisition in Spanish

enter as: (1) kind denoting; (2) predicate denoting; or (3) they might be
free to start as either. Each of these three choices corresponds to a major
language type. Specifically, in languages like Chinese and Japanese, all
nouns appear to be mass-like, exhibiting the morphosyntactic properties
of mass nouns, that is, they: (a) do not combine with plural morphology
(e.g., grass/*grasses); (b) do not combine with numerals (e.g.,*one grass/two
grasses); and (c) need classifier/measure phrases to be quantified (e.g., three
plies of grass). Chierchia, Guasti, and Gualmini (2000) provide as an exam-
ple the noun phrase ‘three tables’ in Chinese, liang zhang zhuozi which liter-
ally means ‘three pieces of table.’ Notice that another characteristic of this
type of language is that nouns can always occur bare even in argument posi-
tion. In contrast, languages like English present a mixed system, as they
mark the singular/plural contrast, distinguish mass versus count nouns,
and allow bare (count) plurals and bare mass nouns in argument position.
Finally, languages belonging to the Romance languages type mark the
singular/plural and the mass/count distinctions like in English, but bare
nominals are either not allowed (e.g., French) or restricted (e.g., Italian).
Chierchia et al. (2000) formalize this cross-linguistic classification by pro-
posing the Nominal Mapping Parameter (NMP):

Example 4.2
Nominal Mapping Parameter
(a) N [+ arg – pred] Classifier languages, for example, Chinese
(b) N [+ arg + pred] Germanic languages, for example, English
(c) N [– arg + pred] Romance languages, for example, Italian

Example 4.2 illustrates the three possible values for the NMP. In languages
like Chinese, as in Example 4.2(a), NPs are arguments; therefore, they can
occur bare in argument position. Chierchia et al. (2000) argue that in this
type of language, when nominals are turned into predicates, they exhibit
the same characteristics as mass nouns; for example, nouns show neither
plural morphology nor the obligatory use of classifiers with numerals (e.g.,
‘three pounds of rice’). On the other hand, Germanic languages like
English, present a mixed system, as shown in Example 4.2(b). In these lan-
guages, nouns may behave like arguments (e.g., they can occur bare) or
predicates (e.g., they require an overt determiner). Finally, in Romance
languages, NPs are predicates, as shown in Example 4.2(c). As a result, in
Romance languages, bare Ns cannot be arguments; that is, Ns need an overt
determiner to turn into an argument in these languages. This proposal
accounts for the cross-linguistic distribution of bare nominals and it is
Number Agreement 99

closely related to the mass/count distinction, that is, NPs in predicative


languages share the characteristics as mass nouns, while NPs in argumental
languages share similar characteristics with count nominals.
Chierchia et al. (2000) extend their proposal to the acquisition process,
studying the production of bare nominals in the spontaneous data of
16 children acquiring English, French, Italian, and Swedish. They propose
three developmental stages in the acquisition of DP. In the first stage, nomi-
nals are predominantly bare as children start the acquisition process with
the NMP set like Chinese, that is, all NPs are [+arg –pred]. For example, a
child learning Spanish would treat all nominals as kind denoting, uttering
phrases like *quiero libro ‘I want book,’ in which the obligatory determiner
is omitted.3 Then, on the basis of positive evidence such as plural morpho-
logy (articles and numerals produced with nouns), the Spanish learner
would re-set the parameter to the Germanic languages value, that is, [+arg
+ pred]. Crucially, they explain that in this second stage, what might look as
optionality in the production of determiners can be interpreted as an inac-
curate classification of lexical items as count or mass, for example, the alter-
nation between phrases as *quiero libro ‘I want book’ versus quiero un libro
‘I want a book.’ Finally, at the third stage, the production of bare nominals
decreases in the speech of children exposed to Romance. This reduction is
explained by children’s realization that an overt determiner is required to
turn a predicate into an argument. As a consequence, they re-set the NMP
to the value associated with Romance languages, that is, [–arg + pred].
Chierchia et al. argue that the positive evidence that triggers the resetting
of the parameter is the use of bare partitives in Italian, for example, dei leoni
‘of the lions,’ and the use of overt plural indefinites in Spanish, for exam-
ple, unos niños ‘some children.’4 Interestingly, their study found differences
in convergence rates between Romance speakers and Germanic speakers.
The Romance speakers showed a shorter free-variation stage (second devel-
opmental stage) than Germanic speakers; this stage also ended more sud-
denly for Romance speakers than for Germanic speakers. In particular,
determiner omissions decreased abruptly for Italian learners between
Mean Length of Utterances (MLU) 2.5 and 3, while for English learners, it
decreased less abruptly between MLUs 3.5 and 4. The researchers explain
this contrast by stating that the child acquiring Romance can converge
faster on the target grammar because the input containing both plural defi-
nite and indefinite articles tells them that D must always be projected and
filled. Hence, they converge, realizing that every noun must be property-
denoting. In the case of a child acquiring English, the input presents that Ns
are either predicative or argumental, which is consistent with non-obligatory
100 First Language Acquisition in Spanish

presence of a determiner. As a result, the child acquiring English has to


resolve the ambiguous status of Ns lexical item by lexical item, a time con-
suming task. This assumption seems too costly in terms of learnability, that
is, it seems that it would delay the acquisition of DPs considerably longer.
The discussion of the NMP seems to indicate that it can account for the
different stages found in the acquisition data. For example, it accounts for
the omission of determiners and the production of unmarked plurals in
the early stages of acquisition. Furthermore, this parameter also explains
how children eventually converge to their particular grammar. Nonethe-
less, according to this hypothesis all NPs are kind denoting at the initial
stage, that is, no determiners should be allowed by their grammar. How-
ever, they claim that nouns were “mostly” bare, that is, children were pro-
ducing some determiners at this stage. Moreover, they excluded from their
data the MPHs (Bottari, Cipriani, & Chilosi 1993/1994), vocalic elements
that might serve as pre-determiners, because they were too ambiguous. This
exclusion might have reduced the number of nominals produced with a
determiner in the data.
The hypothesis of Chierchia et al. (2000) makes the following prediction
for the present study: the children under study should treat all nominals (in
particular, the distinction count vs mass) as kind denoting. As a result, the
children under study should produce nominals in the singular regardless
of the intended referent, because at the earlier stages of acquisition, nomi-
nals are mass-like.
In sum, the hypotheses of Harris as well as Chierchia et al. make similar
predictions in terms of the surface structure of the nominals, namely, that
children would produce nominals in the singular number. However, they
differ in one major aspect. On the one hand, Harris’ hypothesis is not based
on a parametric choice of UG and refers exclusively to a language-particular
characteristic of Spanish. On the other hand, Chierchia’s hypothesis is
based on a semantic value based in UG that goes beyond predicting a par-
ticular value for number; for example, it accounts for determiner omissions
in child language. As a result, the NMP is a preferable hypothesis because it
is part of UG and as such, it can be applied cross-linguisticallly. Moreover,
in terms of learnability, it accounts for the reported determiner omissions
in the acquisition data, as well as how children will converge into the target
grammar. In the next section, I present the experimental findings from the
current study regarding the availability of a default value for the number
feature and also discuss which of these two hypotheses best accounts for the
acquisition data.
Number Agreement 101

4.2.1 Experimental Findings


This section explores the evidence in support of the availability of a default
value for the number feature in Spanish early grammar. In other to explore
this issue, a data analysis was carried out on the production of the three
children under study to examine which of the two hypotheses discussed is
supported by the data, that is, singular versus mass as the default value for
number. The results are presented in two sections; Section 4.2.1.1 discusses
whether children’s production supports singular as the default value,
whereas Section 4.2.1.2 explores the evidence in support of mass as the
default value for number. This section also presents the results of the exper-
imental task conducted to explore the distinction in children’s grammar
between mass and count nominals, that is, “Time to eat.”

4.2.1.1 Singular as Default


The data analysis shows consistent evidence in support of the hypothesis
that early grammar’s unmarked number value is singular. First, within the
Determiner Phrases, children produced singular-marked (full) DPs to refer
to plural referents, for example Elián: *coye la bola ‘take the (fem/sg) ball
(fem/sg)’ to refer to many balls. Similarly, the children uttered singular
Monosyllabic Place Holder DPs (MPH/DPs) to refer to more than one
object, for example, Alonso: *e caballo ‘the (masc/sg) horse (masc/sg)’ to
refer to two horses. Further evidence is found in the production of Attri-
butive Adjectives. In particular, all the (number) non-target-like attributive
adjectives produced by Londa involved the production of singular adjec-
tives to refer to plural referents, for example, Londa: *Feli[h] ‘Happy (un/
sg)’ to refer to a couple of trains. Moreover, children produced singular
nominals to refer to plural referents in 31 percent of the cases. This points
to the fact that plural-marking issues in child grammar not only affect the
marking of number agreement but also the marking of number on the
nominal themselves.
Additional support for the hypothesis of singular as the unmarked value
is found in the production of the other constituents under study: predica-
tive adjectives and third person clitics. In regard to predicative adjectives,
all of Londa’s non-target-like number utterances were productions of
singular phrases used to refer to plural referents, for example, Londa: *tá
omido ‘(he/she) is asleep (masc/sg)’ instead of están dormidos ‘(they) are
asleep (masc/pl).’ Finally, the data analysis on third person clitics also
102 First Language Acquisition in Spanish

supports the singular value as the unmarked one. The three non-target-like
tokens with respect to number involved the production of singular clitics
used to refer to plural referents, for example, Elián: *la tiele ‘(she/he) has
it (fem/sg)’ instead of las tienes ‘[you] have them (fem/pl).’
In sum, the discussion above brings strong support for the availability of
singular as the unmarked value in children’s grammar. This was evidenced
in almost all the constituents under study (with the exception of demon-
strative pronouns) in which the children consistently uttered singular ele-
ments to refer to both singular and plural referents. Recall that both
hypotheses explored in this research (singular vs mass) are similar in that
they make the same prediction regarding number acquisition, that is, the
children under study will produce singular DPs to refer to plural referents.
In that sense both hypotheses are supported by these results.

4.2.1.2 Mass as Default


We turn the discussion to the second hypothesis under consideration,
namely, mass as the default value for number in initial grammar. This par-
ticular hypothesis was explored in the task “Time to Eat” in which children
had to distinguish between count and mass nominals. Specifically, two
sets of objects were presented to each child, one set representing a mass
nominal, for example, two piles of hair, and one set representing a count
nominal, for example, two bananas. Crucially, two sets of objects were pre-
sented to the child making possible the plural interpretation of the mass
nominal if available in her grammar.
Notice that one of the predictions of this particular hypothesis is that
children at the beginning stages of acquisition would interpret all nouns as
mass; hence, they would not pluralize any nominal. The analysis of the data
collected through this task yielded mixed results because not all children
produced both types of nominals (mass and count) to allow a comparison
on noun interpretation.
In the case of Elián, his responses varied according to the objects pre-
sented to him. The first set of objects presented to the child consisted of
two bananas and two piles of hair. In this activity, the child produced
both the mass nominal pelo ‘hair’ and the count nominal, ineo for guineo
‘banana’ in the singular. Hence, no conclusions could be drawn regarding
the availability of the distinction between mass and count nominals. A sec-
ond set of objects was presented to the child, consisting of four flowers and
two piles of rice, as illustrated in Example 4.3.
Number Agreement 103

Example 4.3
Flowers and Rice
Experimenter: ¿Qué va a comer papá?
‘What is dad going to eat?
(Doll eats from the two piles of rice)
Child: Ayián a come arro, oye.
‘Elián to eat (inf) rice, hey’
(Child complains he wants to eat rice himself)
Experimenter: ¿Qué comió papá ?
‘What did dad eat?’
[Doll eats from two piles of rice again]
Child: La[h] chiore
‘the flowers’

In Example 4.3, the child produced both types of nominals in a target-


like fashion. In particular, two piles of rice and four flowers were presented
to the child to elicit plural responses with both types of nominals if allowed
by the child’s grammar. As shown in Example 4.3, Elián produced the mass
nominal in the singular in a target-like fashion (e.g., arro ‘rice’) and the
count nominal in the plural, for example, la[h] chiore for las flores ‘the flow-
ers.’ The third set of objects presented to the child in this task was com-
prised of two chicken legs and three balls. However, these objects only
elicited the mass nominal: mía cane for mira carne ‘look meat.’ Overall,
Elián’s production in this task was very limited, therefore he did not pro-
vide conclusive evidence regarding the distinction between mass and count
nominals, that is, he only produced one of the count nominals in the plural
form, that is, la[h] chiore ‘the flowers.’ As mentioned in the discussion of full
DPs and MPH/DPs in Section 4.4, Elián produced this particular nominal
chiore ‘flowers’ to refer to both singular and plural referents, hence it is not
clear if he knows the singular form, namely, flor ‘flower.’ However, this was
his only instance of a the plural nominal chiore for flores with an agreeing
plural determiner, for example, la[h] chiore ‘the (fem/pl) flowers (fem/
pl).’ Elián’s production in this task might be interpreted as support for the
mass hypothesis of Chierchia et al. (2000); that is, Elián treated all nouns as
mass-like, hence not pluralizable. However, this conclusion might not be
valid given the confounding effect of final –s aspiration in the Puerto Rican
dialect under consideration. In other words, it is not clear whether Elián’s
production is a reflection of his grammar or simply a result of an incom-
plete phonological production, –[h]. Interestingly, my findings on Elián’s
104 First Language Acquisition in Spanish

plural morphology are supported by Marrero and Aguirre’s (2003) study on


number acquisition. Specifically, the researchers found that the children
under study failed to mark plural morphology, producing singular nomi-
nals to refer to plural referents. A data comparison between Magín’s num-
ber morphology production, one of the children in their study, and Elián’s
production reveals similar patterns, that is, at the initial stages of acquisi-
tion both children present a predominantly singular production regardless
of the utterance context. Crucially, in Magín’s dialect the final –s does not
undergo aspiration.
Alonso’s production in this task presents different results to the ones
discussed for Elián, that is, he did not produce any of the count nominals
presented to him, for example, guineos ‘bananas,’ and flores ‘flowers.’ How-
ever, when the animal was eating one of the items representing a mass
nominal, for example, rice and hair, the child responded with a singular
noun in all the instances, as Example 4.4 shows.

Example 4.4
Bananas and hair
Experimenter: ¿Qué come el caballo?
‘What is the horse eating?’
[The horse eats from two bananas]
Child: (Repeats experimenter’s question)
Experimenter: ¿Qué come el caballo?
‘What is the horse eating?’
[The horse eats from two bananas]
Child: (Child does not answer; makes eating sounds)
Experimenter: ¿Qué come el caballo?
‘What is the horse eating?’
(The horse eats from two piles of hair)
Child: No pelo, no come
‘No hair, [it] does not eat’
Experimenter: Mira lo que come el caballo
‘Look what the horse is eating’ (hair)
Child: Mira pelo
‘Look hair’

In Example 4.4 the child consistently gave the target-like response for the
mass nominal pelo ‘hair,’ that is, he did not pluralize the noun even though
there were two piles hair to trigger a plural response if available. Notice that
in Alonso’s case there is evidence that he knows how to mark plurality on
Number Agreement 105

nominals. In his overall production, we find examples of (full) DPs in


the plural, for example, lo pece ‘the fishes’ for los peces. Moreover, Alonso
was the only child that produced plural MPH/DPs, for example, o[h]
caballo[h] for los caballos ‘the horses.’ This child’s production seems to
point to the fact that he has moved from the initial setting of the parameter
to the intermediate stage, in which not all nominals are interpreted as
mass-like.
Regarding Londa, she produced both count nominals and mass nomi-
nals. However, some of the count nominals produced were not pluralized,
for example, the child produced eno instead of guineos ‘bananas,’ and china
instead of chinas ‘oranges.’ Londa’s production of singular nominals to
refer to plural referents is consistent with her overall production, for exam-
ple, (full) DPs, predicative and attributive adjectives (see Section 4.4 for
details). Moreover, Londa was the only child that gave non-target-like
responses to all plural requests in the number comprehension task, as pre-
sented in Section 4.4.3. Nonetheless, she produced two instances of count
nominals in the plural form as shown in Example 4.5.

Example 4.5
(a) Experimenter: ¿Qué comió el guauguau?
‘What did the dog eat?’ [Four flowers]
Child: Flole[h]
‘Flowers’
(b) Dog: ¿Qué como?
‘What should I eat?’
Child: Esto.
‘This (neuter).’ (Pointing at the two chicken legs)
Dog: ¿Qué es esto?
‘What is this (neuter)?’ (Points at the two cups)
Child: Tazo[h]
‘Cups’

In the utterances in Example 4.5, the child marked the plural number in
the count nominals produced. In particular, in Example 4.5(a) Londa
uttered flole[h] ‘flowers’ to refer to the four flowers the dog ate. In Example
4.5(b) she produced the plural noun tazo[h] for tazas ‘cups’ to refer to the
two cups present in the activity.
Regarding Londa’s mass nominal production, she produced the follow-
ing nominals: pelo ‘hair,’ cheche for leche ‘milk,’ ama for grama ‘grass,’ and ito
for pollito ‘chicken,’ as shown in Example 4.6.
106 First Language Acquisition in Spanish

Example 4.6
Milk and Flowers
Horse: ¿Qué como?
‘What should I eat?!’
Child: Cheche.
‘Milk.’
Esto e[h] una cheche.
‘This is a milk’ (She explains to the horse with one bottle).
(Horse drinks from the two bottles of milk)
Experimenter: ¿Qué tomó el caballo?
‘What did the horse drink?’
Child: Esto
‘This (neuter).’ [bottle of milk]
Experimenter: Sí, pero ¿qué tomó el caballo?
‘Yes, but what did the horse drink?’
Child: Cheche.
‘Milk.’

Example 4.6 presents an interesting case. On the one hand, the child
responded with a singular nominal cheche for leche ‘milk’ even though the
horse drank from the two bottles of milk. On the other hand, she produced
an indefinite determiner una ‘a/one’ with the mass noun, for example, esto es
una leche ‘this is a milk.’ This phrase seems to indicate that Londa is treating
this particular mass nominal as a count, that is, it could be quantified with the
indefinite determiner ‘a.’ Another possible explanation is that the child
quantified the nominal as in “a bottle of milk.” However, no other examples
were found of this nature in this child’s data to confirm this hypothesis.
Overall the previous discussion showed that all three children produced
target-like mass nominals, that is, in the singular. The case of count nomi-
nals is confounded by the fact that these children are not marking the
plural number in general. Nonetheless, Elián and Londa produced the
plural count noun flores, providing some evidence that there is a difference
in their grammars between these two types of nominals. Finally, Londa’s
production of una leche raises some questions about the true nature of mass
nominals in child language. One possibility is that she was quantifying the
bottle itself, as mentioned before, and not its contents, that is, the milk.
Similar non-target-like utterances are reported in the literature (Chierchia
et al. 2000; Gordon 1982). In particular, Gordon found that this type of
non-target-like instance accounted for 2 percent of the total production.
In addition, Chierchia et al. found examples of mass nouns treated as count
Number Agreement 107

in the data of the four English children used in their study. They argue that
in a language like English with grammaticized count nouns, children are
open to misanalyses in the lexicalization of mass nominals given the limited
input on collective mass, for example, hair, luggage, and furniture are
examples of lexicalized misanalyses in English.
In order to assess if the two older children Diana and Pepe have acquired
the mass/count distinction, I compared their production with that of the
three children under study. The analysis shows that Diana and Pepe suc-
cessfully produced the mass nominals, as well as the count nominals in the
“Time to eat” task. In particular, Diana produced the following count plural
nominals: flore[h] ‘flowers,’ silla[h] ‘chairs,’ bola[h] ‘balls,’ and taza[h] ‘cups.’
Regarding the mass nominals she uttered the following examples: pasto
‘pasture,’ grama ‘grass,’ arro[h] ‘rice,’ and café ‘coffee.’
Diana produced two interesting examples with mass nominals, as illus-
trated in Example 4.7.

Example 4.7
(a) Mira se cayó un arroz
‘Look a rice fell down’
(b) Doll: ¿Dónde me senté?
‘Where did I sit down?’ [doll sits on the grass]
Child: Aquí.
‘Here’ (She points at the grass)
Doll: Pero, ¿qué es eso?
‘But, what is that (neuter)?’
Child: *Un pasto.
‘A/one pasture’

In Example 4.7, Diana uttered mass nominals with the determiner un


‘a/one.’ Specifically, the child produced Example 4.7(a) to refer to a grain
of rice that fell from the pile. This example is interesting because it shows
that in this child’s grammar the distinction exists between the nominal rice,
which cannot be quantified and a grain of rice, which can be quantified,
for example, dos granos de arroz ‘two grains of rice.’ Example 4.7(b) presents
a different situation. In this case, the child used the determiner un to quan-
tify a mass nominal, for example, pasto ‘pasture.’ Interestingly, the experi-
menter repeated the routine in Example 4.7(b) several times to check if
Diana would repeat the non-target-like utterance, finding that the child
would alternate between target-like and non-target-like responses, as illus-
trated in Example 4.8.
108 First Language Acquisition in Spanish

Example 4.8
Doll: Yo me tengo que sentar.
‘I have to sit down’
Child: En el pasto.
‘On the grass’ (She points at the grass)
Doll: ¡Ay, ay...! ¿Dónde me senté, en la silla?
‘Au, au...! Where did I sit, on the chair?’
(Doll sits on the grass and complains)
Child: No. *Esto[h] son de caballitos.
‘No. These (masc/pl) belong to [the] small horses.’

Example 4.8 presents how Diana alternated between target-like and non-
target-like production of mass nominals. First, the child responded in a
target-like fashion en el pasto ‘on the grass’ using the mass nominal in the
singular. In contrast, she referred to the grass with the plural demonstrative
pronoun esto[h] ‘these (masc/pl)’ as she explained that the grass was for
the small horses. Finally, Diana produced another interesting example per-
taining to the mass nominals, as shown in the dialogue in Example 4.9.

Example 4.9
Experimenter: O.K, deja ver qué más hay aquí.
‘O.K., lets see what else is here’
Child: ¿Qué son estos? ¿qué esto?
‘What are these (masc/pl)? what [is] this (neut)’
Experimenter: ¿Qué es eso?
‘What is that (neut)?’
Child: Pollo.
‘Chicken.’

In the dialogue illustrated in Example 4.9, Diana first refers to the two
pieces of chicken with the plural demonstrative estos ‘these’ perhaps
wondering what the prop actually was. Then once she identified the objects,
she produced the singular target-like mass nominal pollo ‘chicken.’ How-
ever, when the experimenter asked her again what the prop was: ¿Qué es eso?
‘What is that (neuter)?’ the child responded in a non-target-like fashion:
*Un pollo . . . lo[h] pollo[h] ‘A chicken . . . the (masc/pl) chickens (masc/pl).’
In her response, the child produced two non-target-like instances, the
first one involving a quantified mass nominal and the second one the plu-
ralization of the same nominal. The discussion of Diana’s non-target-like
responses points to the production of mass nominals as mass (namely in the
Number Agreement 109

singular) but also as count, in the sense that they can be both pluralized
and quantified. This alternation seems to reflect the difficulty children face
in the interpretation of this type of nominals or what Chierchia et al. call
the recategorization process.
Pepe’s production of nominals in this task was similar to Diana’s produc-
tion, that is, it included both types of nominals. For example, regarding
count nominals, he produced the following: plato[h] ‘plates,’ guineo[h]
‘bananas,’ silla[h] ‘chairs,’ bola[h] ‘balls,’ and taza[h] ‘cups.’ In addition, the
child produced the following mass nominals: grama ‘grass,’ pollo ‘chicken,’
and pelo ‘hair.’
Pepe also uttered two interesting examples involving the mass nominal
grama ‘grass,’ as shown in Example 4.10.

Example 4.10
(a) *Yo la[h] tengo en la pecera pero no son así . . . de larga[h].
‘I have them (fem/pl) in the aquarium but (they) are not that . . .
long (fem/pl)’
(b) ¡Eso[h] son iguale[h]!
‘Those (masc/pl) are equal (masc/pl)’

In the utterances in Example 4.10 Pepe referred to the mass nominal


‘grass’ with pronominals and adjectives in the plural form. Specifically, in
Example 4.10(a) Pepe explained to the experimenter that he had grass in
his aquarium, but that it was not that long. Notice that he used the plural
clitic la[h] ‘them (fem/pl)’ and the adjective larga[h] ‘long (fem/pl)’ to
refer to the grass. Interestingly, immediately before Pepe had identified
the two pieces of grass in a target-like fashion, for example, grama ‘grass.’
In Example 4.10(b) the child refers again to the grass, this time using a
plural demonstrative pronoun eso[h] and a pluralized adjective iguale[h]
‘equal.’ These examples seem to indicate that he interpreted the mass
nominal grama ‘grass,’ as a count nominal.5 However, as pointed out by
Crain (p.c.), it is logical for a child in the process of acquisition to assume
that two bunches of grass are plural not singular.
Examples 4.8 to 4.10, although limited in number, pose some empirical
problems for the mass hypothesis.6 First, Chierchia et al. (2000) argue that
the trigger for resetting the NMP to the target value is the acquisition of
Partitive Case, defined by the authors as the acquisition of the indefinite
unos/unas ‘some (masc/fem)’ in Spanish. Diana and Pepe were producing
these determiners in a target-like fashion; hence, they should have acquired
the target setting of the parameter. This finding raises questions about
110 First Language Acquisition in Spanish

indefinite determiners in Spanish as the trigger for resetting the NMP.


Moreover, the researchers state that children acquiring Romance languages
converge on the target setting of the parameter faster than in Germanic
languages, for example, determiner omissions decreased abruptly for
Italian learners between MLUs of 2.5 and 3, while for English learners it
decreased less abruptly between MLUs 3.5 and 4. In contrast, determiner
omissions for the older children in the present study are rare but they are
still treating some of the mass nominals as count, that is, produced with a
quantifier and in the plural. Their non-target-like production seems to
point to a longer intermediate stage for Romance in which children classify
nominals as count or mass. Another possibility is that in these children’s
grammars the possibility of recategorization of nominals is available, for
example, leche ‘milk’ versus una botella de leche ‘a bottle of milk.’ Further
research is needed to address this topic.
The previous discussion of the “Time to Eat” task data yielded inconclu-
sive results, confounded perhaps by the phonological aspect of the final –s
aspiration, that is, the results do not favor or disprove the hypothesis of an
initial mass default value. However, on empirical grounds, the NMP accounts
for the observed phenomena in the present study. First, it explains why
children acquiring Spanish produce unmarked plurals, that is, they are
treating nominals as mass-like. As discussed in Section 4.2.1.1, the children
under study were having problems marking plurality across all the struc-
tures under study. If children are in the process of setting the NMP to the
adult-like value in Spanish, the production of unmarked plurals is expected
in this transitional grammar. Second, this hypothesis also accounts for the
pervasive determiner omissions attested in the data, that is, languages like
Chinese with a mass-like nominal interpretation lack determiners. In par-
ticular, the children under study omitted determiners in 64 percent of the
obligatory contexts (see Chapter 5). This proportion was consistent across
the three children: Elián (59 percent), Alonso (65 percent), and Londa
(65 percent). Under the NMP determiner omissions are expected in acqui-
sition, as children are interpreting nominals as argumental, instead of the
adult-like interpretation in Spanish, as predicates. In this analysis children
are “speaking Chinese” in the sense that they are interpreting nominals as
in languages like Chinese.
In addition from a theoretical standpoint, the NMP, a UG-based param-
eter, has a strong explanatory power in that it accounts for several aspects
of language acquisition. On the one hand, it explains how children start
the acquisition process, namely, the initial state, that is, the NMP is set to
the value of [+argument, –predicate] like in the Chinese language. On the
Number Agreement 111

other hand, and most importantly, it also accounts for how children exposed
to different languages converge to the target grammar, that is, learnability.
In this sense, Chierchia’s hypothesis is preferable over Harris’ (Spanish-
specific) singular parameter.

4.3 Acquisition Research

A number of studies have addressed the topic of number agreement acqui-


sition and all agree on the fact that there is a delay in the acquisition of this
feature. Nonetheless, research on this topic is not very informative with
respect to the nature of the number agreement system in early Spanish
grammars, that is, we only know children acquiring Spanish are not mark-
ing plural number morphology in the initial stages of acquisition.
Overall, research studies on the acquisition of number morphology
present similar assessments of the process, that is, plural morphology first
appears on a few nominals, then it extends to other constituents in the
Determiner Phrase but it is not abundant in children’s production (Aguirre
1995; Hernández Pina 1984; López Ornat 1997; Marrero & Aguirre 2003).
In particular, Hernández Pina states that her son Rafael produces nouns in
the plural before the age of 24 months but he is not aware of the number
feature yet, for example, papas ‘potatoes,’ buzón cartas ‘mailbox letters.’
According to the researcher, these examples are unanalyzed nominals, and
should not be considered as evidence of acquisition of plural morphology.
Then by the age of 24 months, the child has some mastery of number
marking on the noun. Interestingly, she found a difference in the acquisi-
tion of the plural allomorphs, –s and –es. Rafael’s pluralization of nominals
ending in a vowel was perfect by the age of 26 months, but he had some
problems with nominals ending in a consonant, in particular reloj/reloj–es
‘watch-clock/watches-clocks.’ Support for Hernández Pina’s finding is
found in studies by Pérez-Pereira (1989) and Marrero and Aguirre (2003).
Specifically, Pérez-Pereira’s (1989) study on plural formation reveals that
children produced more non-target-like utterances when they were required
to use the allomorph –es to form the plural. Marrero and Aguirre’s (2003)
study on number acquisition also shows that children were having prob-
lems with the plural allomorph –es.
According to Hernández Pina, Rafael completes the article inventory
in the next stage, starting at 28–29 months, that is, plural article forms
appear, for example, los zapatos ‘the (masc/pl/def) shoes (masc/pl),’ las
carteras ‘the (fem/pl/def) purses (fem/pl),’ unas sillas ‘some (fem/pl)
112 First Language Acquisition in Spanish

chairs (fem/pl),’ unos nenes ‘some (masc/pl) kids (masc/pl).’ Hernández


Pina claims that Rafael uses all articles with ease by the age of 3;0 years.
However, the author does not provide any statistical analysis to make any
generalizations regarding Rafael’s acquisition process, for example, type
and proportion of non-adult-like utterances.
Studies by Aguirre (1995), Schnell de Acedo (1994), and López Ornat
(1997, 2003) point to the scarcity of pluralization in child data. Aguirre
studies the acquisition of determiners using the data of four children and
finds that plural marking on determiners is very scarce in the production
data. Similarly, Schnell de Acedo’s DP acquisition research shows that the
child under study, Morela, produced a very limited number of plural DPs:
0 at 16 months; 11 at 23 months; and 3 at 29 months. Moreover, López
Ornat (1997, 2003) states that no examples of plurality were found in her
analysis of Det-N structures in Maria’s production at the beginning stages of
acquisition; the data used by the author covers the period between the ages
of 1;7 to 2;1.
Marrero and Aguirre (2003) formalize the process of number acquisition,
proposing three developmental stages. In the first stage, the three children
under study produce what they call “unanalyzed” plurals, that is, plural
morphology is not linked to plural meaning, for example, botas ‘boots.’ In
the second stage, the single marker stage, the plural marker surfaces but
in only one of the constituents, for example, lo caballo ‘the (pl) horse (sg).’
In this example, plural morphology is only marked on the determiner lo for
los. In the third stage, the marker extension stage, the marker extends to
other constituents, for example, los caballos ‘the (pl) horses (pl).’ In addi-
tion, these researchers provide some insight on the nature of early gram-
mars in terms of number. They analyze non-target-like production and
conclude that at the single marker stage children’s production can be char-
acterized as having determiner omissions and/or agreement errors between
the nominal and the determiner. However, the authors present the distribu-
tion of each error in a graph instead of the actual number, which makes the
estimation of error difficult. For example, in the case of one of the children
under study, María, her agreement errors are approximately between
25 percent and 30 percent and her omissions are approximately between
45 percent and 50 percent at the age 1;10. The second child under study,
Magín, shows different proportions in terms of agreement in Det-N struc-
tures, as shown in Table 4.1, extracted from Marrero and Aguirre (2003).
Table 4.1 displays how the process of number acquisition proceeds in the
case of this particular child, Magín. Specifically, Table 4.1 indicates that at
the beginning stages of acquisition the production context for this child is
Number Agreement 113

Table 4.1 Magín’s number agreement production


Age Utterances Target-like Non-target-like

1;8 1 0 1 (100%)
1;9 11 0 11 (100%)
1;10 15 1 14 (93%)
1;11 9 2 7 (78%)
2;0 42 24 18 (43%)

mostly singular, illustrated by the limited number of utterances requiring


plural morphology. Moreover, this table points out that this child is having
problems marking plurality in the Det-N structure, with higher proportion
of non-target-like utterances produced. Finally, this table seems to indicate
that at age 2;0, Magín produces for the first time more target-like utter-
ances, with regard to number agreement, than non-target-like. Marrero
and Aguirre’s analysis of Magín’s number acquisition provides some insight
on the nature of number agreement in initial grammars with respect to
production frequencies and targetness, supported by a quantitative data
analysis.
The present research addresses the nature of number agreement in
initial Spanish grammar, taking into consideration the context of the utter-
ance, that is, the referent, and the types of non-target-like utterances present
in the data, as will be presented in the next section.

4.4 Experimental Research

This section discusses experimental findings regarding the acquisition of


the number feature, in particular, the nature of number agreement in the
structures under examination. The data analysis on number agreement
points to one major generalization: the children under study seem to have
more difficulties marking the plural number feature than the gender fea-
ture.7 Support for this conclusion is found not only in the non-target-like
production of constituents that enter into an agreement relationship with
nominals (e.g., determiners and adjectives), but also in the production of
singular nominals to refer to plural referents, that is, nouns without overt
plural inflectional morphological makings (–(e)s) on them.8
We turn the discussion to the analysis of number agreement in the struc-
tures under study. In the case of Bare Noun Phrases or Bare Nominals (BNs),
nominals produced in isolation, the analysis found a total of 394 instances
114 First Language Acquisition in Spanish

Table 4.2 Distribution of BNPs


Target-like/Non-target-like Elián Alonso Londa Total

Target-like (%) 37 (49) 56 (53) 86 (40) 179 (45)


Non-target-like (%) 39 (51) 49 (47) 127 (60) 215 (55)
Total (%) 76 (100) 105 (100) 213 (100) 394 (100)

produced by the three children, distributed as follows: 179 (45 percent)


were target-like and 215 (55 percent) were non-target-like, as shown in
Table 4.2.9 The chi-squared test revealed that there was no significant differ-
ence between the two totals (χ2 = 3.29, p = .07).
Table 4.2 also illustrates an almost even split between target-like and non-
target-like production of BNPs in the case of Elián and Alonso, whereas
Londa produced a significantly higher number of non-target-like BNPs:
86 target-like versus 127 non-target-like (χ2 = 8.79, p < .01).
Target-like utterances included proper names such as Aaaatorio for
‘Antonio’ (Alonso), family names, for example, mamá ‘mom’ (Elián), and
mass nouns, for example, pelo ‘hair’ (Londa). Notice that target-like in this
respect refers to BNPs that could be used by an adult in the same context.
Regarding, non-target-like production of BNPs, the analysis found two types
of non-adult-like utterances. The first type involves the omission of the
determiner, for example, caballo, toma ‘horse, take;’ these will be presented
in Chapter 5. The second type of non-target-like utterance pertains to the
number feature and involves the use of a singular nominal to refer to a
plural referent, as illustrated in Example 4.11.

Example 4.11

Child Target
*Flol (Londa) flores
‘flower’ [four flowers] ‘flowers’

In Example 4.11, Londa responds to the experimenter’s question: ¿Qué es


esto? ‘What is this (neuter)?’ with flol ‘flower (sg),’ instead of flores ‘flowers
(pl)’ or unas flores ‘some flowers,’ to refer to the four flowers presented
to her. Table 4.3 provides a distribution summary of the non-target-like
BNPs produced by the three children. This table also illustrates that the
most common type of non-target-like BNP found in the data refers to
determiner omission (with singular nominals) in obligatory contexts,
Number Agreement 115

Table 4.3 Non-target-like BNPs


Singular reference Plural reference Ambiguous Total

Determiner omissions Unmarked plurala Bare pluralsb

Elián 23 (59%) 15 (38%) – 1 (3%) 39 (100%)


Alonso 32 (65%) 16 (33%) – 1 (2%) 49 (100%)
Londa 83 (65%) 35 (28%) 2 (2%) 7 (5%) 127 (100%)
Total 138 (64%) 66 (31%) 2 (1%) 9 (4%) 215 (100%)
a
Singular marked nominals that referred to plural referents
b
Determiner omissions with plural marked nominals

Table 4.4 Non-plural marked BNs and plural marked BNs produced: plural
referent
Non-plural marked Bare Nominals Plural marked Bare Nominals Total

Elián 15 (94%) 1 (6%) 16 (100%)


Alonso 16 (80%) 4 (20%) 20 (100%)
Londa 35 (69%) 16 (31%) 51 (100%)
Total 66 (76%) 21 (24%) 87 (100%)

accounting for 64 percent (138) of the non-target-like production (see


Chapter 5 for details). In terms of number agreement, non-target-like
BNPs consisted on the production of non-plural marked BNs to refer to a
plural referent,10 and accounted for 31 percent (66) of the non-target-like
utterances. In all these instances, the marking of the plural number feature
was required, since the children were referring to more than one object.
Table 4.4 provides a comparison between the production of these non-
plural marked nominals and the production of BNs marked for the plural
number.
Overall, Table 4.4 shows that the three children produced a significantly
higher number of unmarked plurals (χ2 = 23.3, p < .01). In addition, chil-
dren’s developmental age seems to play a role in the production of BNs
overtly marked for the plural number feature. Elián with a mean length
utterance in words (MLUw) of 1.5, produced only one nominal overtly
marked as plural out of a total of 16 required, while Alonso (MLUw =1.9)
produced 4 nominals marked as plural out of 20 required. Londa (MLUw =
2.2) produced 16 out of a total of 51 required. However, a statistical analysis
revealed that the proportions of Alonso (20 percent) and Londa (31 per-
cent) were not significantly different from each other (χ2 = 2.37, p < .123).
116 First Language Acquisition in Spanish

Notice that the phenomenon of unmarked plurality is still very strong in the
case of the oldest child, Londa, accounting for 69 percent of her nominals
produced to refer to a plural entity, as illustrated in Table 4.4. This result
regarding number marking on nominals is consistent with my findings for
the other structures under study, that is, children do not mark the plural
number feature overtly at this stage of the acquisition process.
We turn the discussion now to the findings on number agreement, that is,
agreement relations between nominals and their agreeing constituents.
The presentation of the findings also includes an analysis of reference to
determine whether the structures produced by the children under study
match the features of the referents. Moreover, number agreement results
will be compared to the results obtained for gender agreement to establish
a timing in the acquisition of these two features.
The data analysis revealed that while children established almost perfect
gender agreement relations within Determiner Phrases, this was not the
case with respect to number agreement. In particular, the (full) DP data
showed that the children produced a total of 62 (full) DP tokens as shown
in Table 4.5.
This table indicates that out of a total of 62 (full) DP tokens produced by
the three children, 8 tokens were non-target-like with respect to agreement.
Table 4.5 also shows that the majority of non-target-like utterances (7 out
of 8) involved the production of plural masculine nominals. In particular,
these utterances pertained to mismatches of the number feature, that is,
children either mark the plurality on the determiner or on the nominal,
but not in both constituents as required by Spanish grammar.
Production of (full) DPs was different across the three children, with the
younger children, Elián and Alonso, producing considerably fewer instances
of this structure (5 and 19 respectively) than Londa (38 tokens). Hence
their production will be analyzed individually. In the case of Elián, he
produced only one (full) DP token in the plural, as shown in Example
4.12(a).

Table 4.5 Overall (full) DP token production


Masculine Feminine

Target-like Non-target-like Target-like Non-target-like

Singular 27 1 20 –
Plural 4 6 3 1
Total 31 7 23 1
Number Agreement 117

Example 4.12

Child Target
(a) *es ya flore[h] (Elián) son las flores
‘[it] is the (fem/sg) flowers (un/fem/pl)’ ‘(they) are the (fem/pl)
flowers(un/f/pl)’
(b) Coye la bola coge la bola
‘take (imp) the(fem/sg) ball (fem/sg)’ ‘take (imp) the (fem/sg)
ball (fem/sg)’

In Example 4.12(a) there is a mismatch between the plural feature of the


nominal flore[h] ‘flowers’ and the singular feature of the determiner ya
for la ‘the.’ However, it is not clear if this mismatch relates to the number
feature per se or to phonological factors; in particular, the aspiration of
final –s in the Puerto Rican dialect. No conclusions can be drawn given the
fact this child only produced one plural (full) DP token.
In addition, Elián’s five (full) DP tokens were analyzed with respect to
reference, whether the morphological features encoded on the nominals
matched those of the intended referents. The analysis found only one clear
instance of a (semantic) mismatch, illustrated in Example 4.12(b). This
example presents a number mismatch between the singular features of the
DP coye la bola ‘take the (fem/sg) ball (fem/sg)’ with the plural referent,
two balls, for example, las bolas ‘the balls’.
In the case of Alonso, he produced a total of 19 (full) DP tokens, 15 target-
like with respect to agreement and 4 non-target-like. All of Alonso’s
non-target-like DPs were related to mismatches on the number feature, as
in Example 4.13.

Example 4.13

Child Target
(a) oto pece otros peces
‘other (masc/sg) fishes (masc/pl)’ ‘other (masc/pl) fishes
(masc/pl)’
(b) lo juete los juguetes
‘the (masc/pl) toy (masc/sg)’ ‘the (masc/pl) toys (masc/pl)’
(c) lo carro los carros
‘the (masc/pl) car (masc/sg)’ ‘the (masc/pl) cars (masc/pl)’
(d) lo[h] caballo los caballos
‘the (masc/pl) horse (masc/sg)’ ‘the (masc/pl) horses (masc/pl)’
118 First Language Acquisition in Spanish

Overall, utterances in Example 4.13 show that Alonso marked plurality


on only one of the constituents in the DP, either on the determiner or on
the nominal. Specifically, in Example 4.13(a) Alonso produces a singular
determiner oto ‘another’ with a plural nominal pece ‘fishes.’11 Examples
4.13(b) and 4.13(c) involve the production of what seems to be singular
nominals, for example, juete ‘toy’ and carro ‘car,’ with the plural determiner
lo. Crucially, lo is analyzed in these examples as los, the plural form of el
‘the,’ even though it is missing the final –s, that is, los. Finally, in Example
4.13(d) the child produces the final –s in the determiner lo[h] as the aspi-
rated [h] sound but the accompanying nominal lacks the morphological
marker of plurality, caballo. Alonso uttered another instance of this DP in
which the number feature was marked in both the determiner and the
nominal as a final –[h], for example, lo[h] caballo[h]. Notice that all the utter-
ances in 4.13 involve the production of a nominal (or a determiner) that
ends in a vowel and lacks the morphological mark for plural, namely, the
final –s. It is not certain that these examples involve a mismatch of the num-
ber feature, that is, some of them can be cases of aspiration of the final –s,
one of the characteristics of the Spanish dialect this child speaks, that is, the
Puerto Rican dialect. Nonetheless, Marrero and Aguirre (2003) also found
in their data analysis that children tended to mark plurality in only one of
the constituents of the DP, proposing the single marker stage as one of the
developmental stages in the acquisition of number. Crucially, the research-
ers analyzed a Spanish dialect with no final –s aspiration.
The reference of the 19 DP tokens produced by Alonso was examined to
verify that the grammatical features included in these phrases match those
of the object(s) they referred to. First, regarding the 13 singular DP tokens
produced, the analysis found that all of them were target-like with regard to
gender and 10 of them referred to a singular object, for example, un carro
‘a (masc/sg) car (masc/sg)’ used to refer to a masculine singular object.
The referent of the remaining three cases was not as clear, as shown in
Example 4.14.

Example 4.14
(a) ese guauguau ‘that(masc/sg) dog (masc/sg)’
(b) la comida ‘the (fem/sg) food (fem/sg)’
(c) el caballo ‘the (masc/sg) horse (masc/sg)’

The referent of Example 4.14(a) is not clear because Alonso uttered this
DP while pretending to talk on the phone with a dog on each ear, that is, it
is not clear whether the child was referring to both dogs or to only one.
Number Agreement 119

Example 4.14(b) la comida ‘the food’ presents an interesting case for the
analysis of reference. The child uttered this DP when the experimenter
took out four (dinner) plates. In this context it was clear that he was not
referring to the plates, but to the food to be put on them. Since there was
no food present, the referent of the utterance was abstract not concrete. In
the case of Example 4.14(c), Alonso produced this particular token in three
separate instances. In two instances, the referent was one horse; hence
these were target-like uses. In one of the instances, however, the child
uttered this DP, el caballo ‘the horse,’ while holding two horses. This seems
to be a case of a number feature mismatch, that is, using a singular DP to
refer to more than one object.
Regarding the reference examination of Alonso’s six plural (full) DP
tokens produced, the analysis found only one case of a semantic number
mismatch, as illustrated in Example 4.15(a).

Example 4.15
Child Target
(a) Lo[h] caballo[h], el caballo el caballo
‘the horses, the horse’ ‘the horse’
(b) lo pece los peces
‘the fishes’ ‘the fishes’
(c) lo carro los carros
‘the (masc/pl) car (masc/sg)’ ‘the (masc/pl) cars (masc/pl)’

In Example 4.15(a) the child uttered a plural DP, lo[h] caballo[h] ‘the
horses’ to refer to one horse. Interestingly, he immediately produced the
singular DP equivalent el caballo ‘the horse,’ in what appears to be a case of
self-correction. The remaining utterances in Example 4.15 were target-like
with respect to semantic number agreement. Target-like plural (full) DPs
included requests for a particular group of toys, as in Example 4.15(b), that
is, the child requests lo pece ‘the fishes.’ Another target-like plural DP is
shown in example 4.15(c) lo carro ‘the (masc/pl) car (masc/sg).’ In this
example the child uses a definite plural DP to complain about the construc-
tion trucks that have been passing outside the house, making a lot of noise.
In the target grammar this particular DP would receive a generic inter-
pretation, that is, a non-specific set of cars. However, there is no evidence in
Alonso’s data that he has the knowledge of generic interpretations.
The discussion of Alonso’s (full) DP production in terms of number,
indicates that he had difficulties marking the plurality of the nominals and
determiners with the final –s, while he marked successfully segments that
120 First Language Acquisition in Spanish

Table 4.6 Londa’s (full) DP tokens


Determiner type Masculine Feminine Total

Singular Plural Singular Plural

Definite 2 1 2 1 6 (16%)
Indefinite 9 3 11 1 24 (63%)
Demonstrative 4 – 2 1 7 (18%)
Other – – 1 – 1 (3%)
Total 15 4 16 3 38 (100%)

did not involve this marker exclusively, for example, lo pece. This finding
points to the conclusion that in these examples the nature of the problem is
not grammatical but phonological in nature. This finding seems to be at odds
with previous research stating that the acquisition of plural allomorph –es
poses more problems for children than final –s (Pérez-Pereira 1989).
The analysis of Londa’s (full) DP utterances yielded a total of 38 tokens
produced (excluding all repetitions): 19 masculine and 19 feminine, as
shown in Table 4.6. This table displays the distribution of (full) DPs in terms
of number, with 31 tokens of singular DPs and 7 tokens of plural DPs
produced by Londa. This points to the fact that the vast majority of (full)
DPs was in the singular. The data analysis found that Londa produced
three non-target-like utterances with regard to (grammatical) number
agreement, one pertained to a gender mismatch, and two to number mis-
matches. The two non-target-like utterances involving a number mismatch
are illustrated in Example 4.16:

Example 4.16

Child Target
(a) *¡Uno ece! ¡Unos peces!
‘A (masc/sg/indef)/some ‘Some (masc/pl) fishes (masc/pl)’
(masc/pl/indef) fishes’
(b) *Lo duce Los dulces
‘The (masc/pl) candy (sg/pl)’ ‘The (masc/pl) candies (masc/pl)’

In examples 4.16(a) and 4.16(b) there is an apparent mismatch of the


number feature between the determiners and the nouns. Specifically, in
Example 4.16(a) the mismatch is between the singular indefinite article
uno ‘a’ and the plural noun peces ‘fishes,’ whereas in Example 4.16(b), the
Number Agreement 121

mismatch is between the plural definite article lo ‘the’ and the singular
noun dulce ‘candy.’ As discussed in Alonso’s case, these two examples could
be two instances of the final –s plural marker aspiration, that is, uno for
unos, and dulce for dulces, and in that case there would be no mismatch pres-
ent. The production of uno can be interpreted as a shortened form of the
plural determiner unos ‘some,’ however in this child’s case this inference
cannot be done because she produces all singular indefinite articles as uno
instead of un (cf. Appendix A for a listing of Londa’s DP tokens).
In terms of the analysis of reference, an evaluation of the 38 tokens
yielded 6 cases in which the grammatical features marked on the DPs did
not match those of the referent, as can be seen in Example 4.17.

Example 4.17

Child Target
(a) Mira él, pielna Mira las/sus piernas *(Two legs)
‘Look at him, leg (sg)’ ‘Look the (pl)/his (3rd pers/pl) legs (pl)’
(b) Una flor Unas flores *(Four flowers)
‘A /one (sg) flower (sg)’ ‘Some (pl) flowers (pl)’
(c) Una aita Unas alitas *(Two pairs of wings)
‘A/one (sg) wing (sg)’ ‘Some (pl) wings (pl)’
(d) Un dente Unos dientes *(Teeth)
‘A/one (sg) tooth (sg)’ ‘Some (pl) teeth (pl)’
(e) Es un carro Son unos carros *(Many cars)
‘(It) is a/one (sg) car (sg)’ ‘(They) are some (pl) cars (pl)’
(f) Ese ee uno ijo Estos son unos lagartijos *(Two snakes)
‘this (sg) is a/one lizard’ ‘These are some lizards’

All the utterances listed in Example 4.17 are of the same nature, that is,
they involve the production of a singular nominal to refer to a plural refer-
ent. In Example 4.17(a) the child showed two of the dog’s legs to the exper-
imenter but spontaneously uttered the nominal in the singular, pielna ‘ leg’
instead of piernas ‘legs.’ Examples 4.17(a) to 4.17(e) were produced as
responses to the experimenter’s inquiry, for example, ¿Qué es esto? ‘What is
this (neuter)?’ In particular, in Example 4.17(b) the child answered with
una flor ‘a flower’ as the experimenter showed her four flowers, a clear
(semantic) number mismatch between the singular DP and the plural ref-
erent. The context of Example 4.17(c) was the experimenter pointing out
to the child the wings of two bees drawn in one of the toy houses. Even
though there were two pairs of wings present, the child uttered the nominal
122 First Language Acquisition in Spanish

in the singular, for example, una aita ‘a/one little wing.’ Example 4.17(d)
was uttered as the experimenter showed the child the teeth of a toy snake.
As in the previous example, even though there were many teeth present the
child may have been referring to only one of them. The context of Example
4.17(e) was the experimenter taking out two cars and asking the child: ¿Qué
es esto? ‘What is this (neuter)?’ The child responded with the singular DP:
es un carro ‘(it) is a car.’ Finally, in Example 4.17(f) the experimenter took
out two snakes (one big and one small), then the child identified them as a
lizard saying este ee uno ijo ‘this (sg) is a/one lizard.’
One possible explanation for these semantic mismatches between the DP
features and the objects they referred to, can be that the child at this stage
of acquisition does not pay attention to the number of objects present, but
to the object itself, that is, the child is identifying the object type or labeling
it, and not specifying the amount of objects present. Another explanation
could be related to the acquisition of the feature definiteness, involving the
contrast between definite versus indefinite. In all but one of these examples
(i.e., 4.17(a)), the target-like answer required the plural indefinite unos/
unas ‘some.’ If this hypothesis on the acquisition of determiners is on
the right track, these non-target-like examples would be explained by the
inability of this child to mark the contrast definite versus indefinite, that is,
Londa’s grammar initially may be set initially with the definite value for this
feature. Then, in this analysis singular examples with the determiner uno ‘a’
for un would be explained as instances of the quantifier one and not as the
indefinite determiner ‘a.’
The discussion of number agreement in the (full) DP data points to the
fact that marking plurality is problematic for these children (confounded
by phonological factors) while gender is not. Notice that even though
the majority of DPs produced were in the singular, (48) versus (14) in the
plural, the majority of non-target-like utterances in terms of agreement per-
tained to the number feature. This result seems to indicate an order in the
acquisition of these features, that is, gender precedes the acquisition of
number in Spanish, or grammatical features are acquired before semantic
features in this case.
Further support for a delay in the acquisition of the number feature is
found in the MPH/DPs, that is, vocalic elements produced in the slot a
determiner would occupy in the adult language (Bottari et al. 1993/1994).
An evaluation of the 102 instances of MPH/DPs, produced by the three
children, yielded a total of 33 tokens once repetitions were excluded, as
shown in Table 4.7.
Number Agreement 123

Table 4.7 Overall MPH/DP token production


Nominal endings Total

Masculine Feminine

Singular Plural Singular Plural

Elián Target-like 7 – 4 – 11
Non-target-like – – – 1 1
Londa Target-like 2 – 3 – 5
Non-target-like – – – – –
Alonso Target-like 6 2 3 – 11
Non-target-like 3 2 – – 5
Total 18 4 10 1 33

Table 4.7 displays the distribution of target-like versus non-target-like


tokens produced by the three children in terms of nominal agreement,
with a total of 27 target-like MPH/DPs and 6 non-target-like (see Appendix
B for a list). In addition, Table 4.7 illustrates that the production of MPH/
DPs varies among the three children with the following distribution: Elián
(12), Alonso (16), and Londa (5). However, the difference among the three
is not statistically significant (χ2 = 5.6, p = 0.06).
The analysis of the six non-target-like MPH/DP tokens revealed that
three of them pertained to a number mismatch, as seen in Example 4.18.

Example 4.18
(a) *a fore[h] las flores [Elián]
‘a/the (fem/sg) flowers ‘the (fem/pl) flowers
(un/fem/pl)’ (un/fem/pl)’
(b) *o pie los pies [Alonso]
‘the (masc/pl) foot (masc/sg)’ ‘the (masc/pl) feet
(masc/sg)’
(c) *a pece los peces [Alonso]
‘the (fem/sg) fishes (masc/pl)’ ‘the (masc/pl) fishes
(masc/pl)’

Example 4.18(a) illustrates the only non-target-like token in Elián’s pro-


duction, that is, a fore[h] ‘the (fem/sg) flowers (fem/pl)’ for las flores. This
token involves a mismatch of the singular number feature of the MPH a
and the plural number feature of the nominal flore[h]. This particular token
could be a case of an aspiration of the final –s, typical of the Puerto Rican
124 First Language Acquisition in Spanish

dialect the children under study speak. A similar non-target-like utterance


was discussed in Elián’s DP data involving the production of the nominal
flores ‘flowers’ in the plural and the determiner in the singular, that is, es ya
fore[h] ‘(it) is the (fem/sg) flowers (unm/fem/pl).’
Alonso produced two non-target-like MPH/DPs with respect to number
agreement, as seen in Examples 4.18(b) and 4.18(c). In particular, in
Example 4.18(b), o pie ‘the (masc/pl) foot (unm/masc/sg)’ the MPH o is
interpreted in the present monograph as a shortened form of the plural
masculine article los ‘the,’ in which case there is a mismatch between the
number features of this plural masculine determiner and the singular noun
pie ‘foot.’ These non-marked plurals can be triggered by the aspiration of
the final –s plural marker, characteristic of this child’s dialect, as mentioned
in the previous sections. In Example 4.18(c), a pece, there is a complete
mismatch of both the number and gender features. In this example, the
child uttered the MPH a with the masculine plural nominal pece ‘fishes.’
The context of this utterance was as the child requested the experimenter
to take out the toy fishes. Interestingly, Alonso had produced a grammatical
utterance of this DP with a full determiner, lo pece ‘the (masculine plural)
fishes (masculine plural),’ immediately before he produced this particular
utterance (see Chapter 3 for a discussion of MPH a).
In contrast to Elián’s and Alonso’s MPH/DP production, Londa uttered
only five MPH/DPs, all were target-like and all singular. This child’s limited
production of DPs with vocalic elements seems to point to a more advanced
stage in the acquisition process, as it is discussed in Chapter 5.
Next, the topic of reference appropriateness in the production of MPH/
DPs is addressed. An analysis of reference of the 102 utterances of Monosyl-
labic Place Holder DPs found 11 instances involving a mismatch between
the number and gender features of the MPH Determiner Phrases and their
referents.12 The 11 utterances with a clear mismatch between the features
of the MPH/DPs and their referents involved six tokens (once repetitions
were eliminated).

Example 4.19

Child Target Referent


(a) e lón (Londa) unos leones *[Two lions]
‘the (masc/sg) lion ‘some (masc/pl) lions
(masc/sg)’ (masc/pl)’
(b) a caballo [Alonso] los caballos *[Two horses]
‘the (fem/sg) horse ‘the (masc/pl) horses
(masc/sg)’ (masc/pl)’
Number Agreement 125

(c) e caballo [Alonso] los caballos *[Two horses]


‘the (masc/sg) horse ‘the (masc/pl) horses
(masc/sg)’ (masc/pl)’
(d) e guauguau [Alonso] los gatos *[Four cats]
‘the (masc/sg) dog ‘the (masc/pl) cats
(masc/sg)’ (masc/pl)’
(e) a fore[h] [Elián] las flores *[Four flowers;
holds one]
‘the (fem/sg) flowers ‘the (fem/pl) flowers
(fem/pl)’ (fem/pl)’
(f) o[h] pece [Alonso] el crocodilo *[One crocodile]
‘the (masc/pl) fishes ‘the (masc/sg) crocodile
(masc/pl)’ (masc/sg)’

The utterances in Example 4.19 present two types of non-target-like


production with respect to semantic agreement. The first one involves
the use of a singular MPH/DP to refer to more than one object (e.g.,
Examples 4.19(a) to 4.19(d)); and the second one, pertains to the use of a
plural MPH/DP to refer to a singular object (e.g., Examples 4.19(e) and
4.19(f)). In Example 4.19(a) Londa produces e lón ‘the lion’ to refer two
lions. The child uttered this token four times; the first time was as a response
to the experimenter’s statement: Aquí hay otras cositas ‘Here there are other
(fem/pl) things (diminutive/fem/pl),’ as the experimenter showed the
child two lions. In two other instances the child gave the same response
to the experimenter’s question: ¿Qué son estos? ‘What are (3rd pl) these
(masc/pl)?’ Notice that the experimenter gave Londa both the gender and
number cues in the question, namely, the use of the masculine plural
demonstrative estos. The last instance of this token was target-like involving
the production of the singular DP e lón to refer to one lion. This child’s
consistent singular response to refer to plural objects might be an indica-
tion of the presence of a default value for the number feature, reflected in
her production as singular morphology. Support for this conclusion is
found in Londa’s (full) DP production, that is, this child produced five
non-target-like tokens in terms of reference, all of them involving the use of
a singular DP to refer to a plural referent. In addition, it should be pointed
out that Londa produced the MPH e (interpreted as a phonetic approxima-
tion of the masculine definite determiner el ‘the’) instead of the indefinite
determiner unos in a context that only allows the indefinite reading, that is,
the introduction of a new object. This may indicate that in this child’s gram-
mar the contrast of definite versus indefinite is not yet available.
In Examples 4.19(b) and 4.19(c), Alonso utters a singular MPH/DP even
though he is holding two horses in his hand. The context of 4.19(d) was the
126 First Language Acquisition in Spanish

experimenter showing four cats to Alonso while telling him: ¿Qué habrá
aquí? ‘I wonder what is in here;’ his answer was: mia, e guauguau ‘look, the
(masc/sg) dog.’ Notice that as in Example 4.19(d), the child uses the MPH
e interpreted as the definite article el ‘the’ instead of the indefinite one to
identify a new object, un. There was another instance of this token and it
was target-like in terms of reference because the child was asking for another
dog. The last two utterances in Example 4.19 involve a different type of
mismatch, namely the use of a plural MPH/DP to refer to a single object.
Specifically, in Example 4.19(e), Elián produces a plural MPH/DP even
though he is holding one flower in his hand. One possible explanation for
this token is that the child might only know the plural form of the nominal,
that is, flore[h] ‘flowers.’ Evidence for this hypothesis was found in the analy-
sis of Elián’s DP production, in particular the non-target-like utterance es ya
flore[h] ‘(it) is the (fem/sg) flowers (unm/fem/pl).’ In this utterance all
the constituents are in the singular except the nominal flore[h], perhaps
because it is the only form of this particular noun that the child knows.
Finally, in Example 4.19(f) Alonso produces a plural DP even though he
is presented with only one object, in this particular case a crocodile. The
context of this last utterance was the child requesting the fishes and antici-
pating that the experimenter was going to take them out of the bag at any
moment. In this context, the child might have uttered the plural DP o[h]
pece prior to seeing the actual fishes being taken out. In this child’s data,
there is evidence that he knows both the singular and the plural forms of
this particular nominal, that is, he produced pece ‘fishes’ and pe[h] ‘fish.’
The discussion of the MPH/DP data with respect to number agreement
reveals that children were not having many issues establishing target-like
agreement between the MPHs and the nominals they precede, that is, chil-
dren produce only three non-target-like tokens with regard to number
agreement. In contrast, the analysis of semantic agreement showed that the
three children were having problems matching the number features of the
referent with the corresponding morphological features.
We turn the discussion to the analysis of number agreement in attributive
adjective structures. Children’s production of attributive adjectives was
very limited, with a total of 18 utterances, as seen in Table 4.8. Moreover,
this table reveals a marked contrast between the production of the two
younger children and the production of Londa: Elián (2), Alonso (1), and
Londa (15). Table 4.8 also shows that Elián’s and Alonso’s production was
all target-like.
In contrast, Londa produced six non-target-like attributive adjective
utterances, all of them involving a mismatch of the number feature.
Number Agreement 127

Table 4.8 Distribution of attributive adjectives


Target-like/Non-target-like Elián Alonso Londa Total

Target-like (%) 2 (100) 1 (100) 9 (60) 12 (67)


Non-target-like (%) – – 6 (40) 6 (33)
Total (%) 2 (100) 1 (100) 15 (100) 18 (100)

Example 4.20 illustrates Londa’s three non-target-like tokens (once repeti-


tions were eliminated).

Example 4.20

Child Target
(a) *No, anaron feli[h] (Two times) No, ganaron los felices [trenes]
‘No, happy (unm/sg) [one] won’ ‘No, the (masc/pl) happy
(masc/pl) [ones] won’
(b) *Tistre Los tristes [trenes]
‘Sad (unm/sg) [one]’ ‘The (masc/pl) sad (masc/pl)
[ones]’
(c) *Azul (Three times) Los azules [carros]
‘Blue (unm/sg) [one]’ ‘The (masc/sg) blue (masc/pl)
[ones]’

Example 4.20 shows that Londa’s non-target-like attributive adjective pro-


duction involved two different types of issues; the first one involves the
production of bare adjective phrases, that is, attributive adjectives without
an obligatory determiner. This type of non-target-like attributive adjectives
production is examined in Chapter 5. The second refers to a mismatch in the
number agreement features. In particular, Londa uttered Example 4.20(a)
in the following context:

Example 4.21
Experimenter: ¿Quién ganó? ‘Who won?’
Child: Yo ‘I’
Experimenter: ¿Los tristes? ‘ The (masc/pl) sad (unm/pl)
[ones]?’
¿Ganaron los tristes? ‘The (masc/pl) sad (unm/pl)
[ones] won?’
Child: No, anaron feli[h] ‘No, sad (unm/sg) [one] won.’
128 First Language Acquisition in Spanish

In the dialogue in Example 4.21 the child uttered the singular adjective
feli[h] ‘happy’ to refer to the happy trains that won the race, even though
the experimenter marked the plurality of the nominal in the second ques-
tion, that is, ¿Ganaron los tristes? ‘The (masc/pl) sad (masc/pl) (ones) won
(3rd pers/pl)?’ The child produced a second instance of the adjective feli[h]
‘happy’ after the experimenter explained to her that she had to choose two
trains, either the two happy ones or the two sad ones: Estos dos, tienes que
escoger los dos ‘These (masc/pl) two, (you) have to choose the (masc/pl) two
(trains).’ After listening to the indications of the experimenter, the child
made her selection by saying feli[h] instead of los felices ‘the (masc/pl) happy
(unm/pl) (ones).’ As in the previous instance of this token, Londa pro-
duced a singular adjective even though the experimenter provided her with
plurality cues in the instructions. One could argue that the child inter-
preted the final –s of the singular adjective feli–z ‘happy’ as a plural marker.
However, Londa’s overall production does not support this conclusion, that
is, this child had problems marking the plural number feature in all con-
stituents under study.
Example 4.20(b) was produced as the child completed the experiment-
er’s sentence: Y yo voy a llevar . . . ‘And I am going to carry . . .’ The child
finished the experimenter’s sentence by saying tistre ‘sad (unm/sg)’ instead
of los tristes ‘the (masc/pl) sad (un/pl)(ones)’ to refer to the two trains with
sad faces that the experimenter was going to play with. In this context, the
attributive reading seems more appropriate given the fact that the child was
completing the experimenter’s sentence.
The last non-target-like adjective token produced by Londa was azul ‘blue
(unm/sg) (one).’ The child uttered this token three times as responses to
the experimenter’s questions, as shown in Example 4.22.

Example 4.22
(a) Experimenter: Mira, yo tengo los rojos, ¿cuál tú tienes?
‘Look, I have the (masc/pl) red (masc/pl) [ones],
which [one] do you have?’
Child: Azul, azul.
‘Blue (unm/sg) [one], blue (unm/sg) [one]’
(b) Experimenter: Yo tengo los rojos, ¿cuál tú tienes? ‘
‘I have the (masc/pl) red (masc/pl) [ones], which
[one] do you have?’
Child: Azul
‘Blue (unm/sg) [one]’
(c) Experimenter: ¿Qué carros ganaron?
‘What cars (masc/pl) won (3rd pl)?’
Number Agreement 129

Child: (She points at the blue cars)


Experimenter: ¿Los rojos?
‘The (masc/pl) red (masc/pl) [ones]?’
Child: No, azul
‘No, blue (unm/sg) [one]’

In the three exchanges illustrated in Example 4.22 the child responded


consistently with the adjective azul ‘blue (unm/sg) (one)’ in the singular to
refer to the two trains, in spite of the number cues provided by the experi-
menter in the questions to the child. As we have seen, all of Londa’s non-
adult utterances regarding agreement involved the production of singular
adjectives to refer to plural nominals. This finding is consistent with our find-
ings on (full) DPs and BNs, that is, in these structures Londa also produced
singular nominals to refer to plural objects.
The analysis of the attributive adjective production reveals several aspects
about these structures. First, they are not very common in children’s pro-
duction, as has been reported in the acquisition literature (e.g., Mariscal
2008; Snyder et al. 2001); even when they were elicited by a particular task,
that is, “The race.” As discussed earlier, the two smaller children barely pro-
duced examples of this particular structure and the older child’s production
was higher although it does not seem very rich. Second, we saw in Londa’s
data that all her non-target-like utterances regarding agreement involved
the use of a singular adjective to modify a plural nominal. In particular, the
adjective feliz ‘happy (sg)’ was used instead of felices (pl). One possible expla-
nation is that the child interpreted the final –s sound of this adjective in the
singular as a mark of plurality. However, she uttered all the other adjectives
(with different endings) in the singular too, for example, triste ‘sad (unm/
sg)’ instead of tristes (unm/pl) to refer to plural nominals. As we have dis-
cussed before, this could have been due to the aspiration of the final –s char-
acteristic of the Puerto Rican dialect. Finally, regarding the adjective azul
‘blue (unm/sg) (one)’ it is not clear why the child did not mark its plurality,
that is, azules. One possibility is that the child does not know how to mark the
plurality of this particular adjective that ends in the consonant sound –l.
However this conclusion is not supported by Londa’s overall production, as
she produced nominals that ended in consonantal sounds successfully in
the plural, for example, flole[h] for flores ‘flowers.’ These results point to the
presence of a default value for the number feature in this child grammar,
reflected morphologically as the zero mark or the singular number form.
These general findings on attributive adjectives were compared with the
production of the two older children, Diana (3;5,27) and Pepe (4;3,10).
Table 4.9 illustrates their production in terms of agreement.
130 First Language Acquisition in Spanish

Table 4.9 Distribution of attributive adjectives: older children


Target-like/Non-target-like Diana Pepe Total

Target-like (%) 17 (100) 20 (100) 37 (100)


Non-target-like (%) – – –
Total (%) 17 (100) 20 (100) 37 (100)

Table 4.10 Distribution of predicative adjectives


Target-like/Non-target-like Elián Alonso Londa Total

Target-like (%) 1 (100) 5 (50) 55 (83) 61 (79)


Non-target-like (%) – 5 (50) 11 (17) 16 (21)
Total (%) 1 (100) 10 (100) 66 (100) 77 (100)

Table 4.9 demonstrates that these two children have already mastered
the adjectival agreement in attributive structures, displaying perfect
target-like production, for example, el chiquito ‘the small (one),’ las azules
‘the blue (ones).’ Interestingly, Diana’s and Pepe’s attributive adjective pro-
duction (17) and (20) respectively, reveal that these two children produced
similar proportions to Londa (15), that is, Diana, Pepe, and Londa pro-
duced less than 20 attributive utterances. This limited production supports
the finding that these structures are limited in child language; hence,
further research should include a larger subject pool to be able to extract
a more robust data set.
We turn our discussion to the analysis of number agreement in the other
constituents under study, namely predicative adjectives, and demonstrative
and third person (direct) object clitic pronouns. These additional constitu-
ents were included in the agreement analysis to have a more global under-
standing of agreement in the grammar of the children under study.
In the case of predicative adjectives, the children under study produced
a total of 77 utterances with a predicate adjective, 61 target-like and 16 non-
target-like in terms of nominal agreement. Table 4.10 illustrates the distri-
bution of the predicative adjectives produced by the three children.
Table 4.10 also shows that Elián’s and Alonso’s production of this struc-
ture was scarce, as in the case of attributive adjective data, in comparison to
Londa’s production, that is, (1), (10), and (66) respectively. Specifically,
Elián only produced one predicative adjective utterance and it was in the
singular, for example, Ii cayente ‘[It] is hot (unm/sg)’ for está caliente to
Number Agreement 131

refer to the video camera; hence no conclusions can be drawn regarding


predicative adjective number agreement for this child.
In the case of Alonso, he produced ten predicative adjective utterances,
five target-like, for example, tá sucio ‘[it] is dirty (masc/sg),’ and five non-
target-like with respect to agreement. Regarding number, the analysis found
one non-target-like utterance, as seen in Example 4.23.

Example 4.23

Child Target
*Son sucio Están sucios [pies]
‘(They) are (perm) dirty (masc/sg)’ ‘(They) are (chang) dirty (masc/pl)’

Example 4.23 involves a mismatch between the singular number feature of


the adjective sucio ‘dirty’ and the plural feature of the nominal pies ‘feet.’
The context of this utterance was as shown in Example 4.24.

Example 4.24
Experimenter: ¿Y eso qué es?
‘And that (neuter) what is (it)?’
Child: ¡Mira oo pie!
‘Look the feet!’
Experimenter: Pies, sí.
‘Feet, yes.’
Child: Son sucio.
‘(They) are dirty (masc/sg)’

In the dialogue in Example 4.24, the experimenter pointed at a pair of


socks Alonso had taken off a doll and asked him what they were. The child,
in turn, paid attention to the feet of the doll saying oo pie for los pies ‘the
feet.’ Once the experimenter asserted that those were the feet of the doll by
repeating pies ‘feet (unm/pl),’ the child spontaneously claimed that the feet
were dirty, son sucio. In this particular context, there was evidence that the
child knew the plurality of the nominal feet even though he did not mark it
overtly in all the constituents produced. In his response in Example 4.24,
Alonso produced the MPH oo for los with the singular nominal pie and in his
second response he marked the plurality of feet in the copula son (third
person pl). This non-target-like utterance seems to be another case of not
marking overtly the plural marker –s due to a failure to produce the aspira-
tion typical of this Spanish dialect, that is [h].13
132 First Language Acquisition in Spanish

In contrast with Elián’s and Alonso’s limited production of predicative


adjectives, Londa produced the vast majority of predicative adjective utter-
ances found in the data, accounting for 71 percent of the total. An exami-
nation of the data revealed that out of a total of 47 predicative adjectives
(once repetitions were excluded) found in Londa’s data, 11 were non-tar-
get-like in terms of agreement. Regarding number agreement, six non-tar-
get-like tokens were found in her data, as shown in Example 4.25.

Example 4.25

Child Target
(a) *Flole ande (Son) flores grandes
‘Flowers (unm/pl) big (unm/sg)’ ‘[They] are big (unm/pl) flowers
(unm/pl)’
(b) *Ello ya antado Ellos ya están levantados
‘They already awake (masc/sg)’ ‘They are already awake (masc/pl)’
(c) *Tá omido Están dormidos
‘[It] is asleep (masc/sg)’ ‘(They) are asleep (masc/pl)’
(d) *Tá tistre (two times) Están tristes
‘[it]is sad (unm/sg)’ ‘(They) are sad (unm/pl)’
(e) *Feli[h] (Están) felices
‘Happy (unm/sg)’ ‘(They) are happy (unm/pl)’
(f) *No, ita No, son chiquitas
‘No, small (fem/sg)’ ‘No, (they) are small (fem/pl)’

Overall, Example 4.25 demonstrates that Londa produced singular


marked adjectives to modify plural nominals. Specifically, in Example
4.25(a) Londa uttered the plural noun flole for flores ‘flowers’ with the sin-
gular adjective ande for grande ‘big (unm/sg)’ as a response to the experi-
menter’s question: ¿Y qué es esto? ‘And what is this (neuter)?’ This example
could be phonological in nature, that is, the child did not mark the final
aspiration of the plural marker –s, that is, [h]. Notice that we have evidence
of the plurality of the nominal flores because the final (epenthetic) –e in
flor–e, that is, the child produced only the vowel of the plural marker –es.
In Examples 4.25(b) and 4.25(c) Londa produced singular adjectives to
modify the plural nominal caballos ‘horses (masc/pl).’ In particular, in
Example 4.25(b) the child marked the plurality of referent caballos ‘horses
(masc/pl)’ with the pronominal ello for ellos ‘they (masc/pl).’ This number
mismatch can also be phonological, namely, she did not mark the final –s
aspiration on the adjective antado for levantado ‘awake (masc/sg).’ In con-
trast, the child produced Example 4.25(c) entirely in the singular, tá omido
for está dormido ‘[he] is asleep (masc/sg)’ to refer to the sleeping horses.
Number Agreement 133

This particular example points to the availability of a default value for the
number feature, expressed morphologically as the singular form. Examples
4.25(d) and 4.25(e) illustrate the use of the singular adjectives triste ‘sad
(unm/sg)’ and feliz ‘happy (unm/sg)’ to refer to a pair of trains. These two
examples are very interesting because Londa produced consistently singu-
lar utterances even though the experimenter (overtly) marked the plurality
of the nominal in the questions. The two examples had the context shown
in Example 4.26.

Example 4.26
(a) Experimenter: ¿Y estos dos?
‘And these (masc/pl) two?’
Child: Tá tiste
‘(it) is sad (unm/sg)’
(b) Experimenter: ¿Y estos, estos dos?
‘And these (masc/pl), these (masc/pl) two?’
Child: Feli[h]
‘Happy (unm/sg)’

In the two dialogues shown in Example 4.26 the experimenter stressed


the plurality of the nominal modified by the adjectives by using the plural
demonstrative pronoun estos ‘these (masc/pl) (ones)’ and the quantifier
dos ‘two.’ Nonetheless, the child answered consistently with adjectives in the
singular. These examples bring support for the existence of an initial default
value for the number feature. Moreover, as discussed earlier, Londa also
produced these two adjectives in a non-target-like fashion in attributive
structures, that is, singular adjectives to modify plural nominals. Londa’s
last non-target-like utterance is illustrated in Example 4.25(f). The child
uttered this example as a response to the experimenter’s question: ¿Y esas
son grandes? ‘And those (fem/pl) are big (unm/pl)?’ As in the case of the
examples discussed before, Londa produced a singular adjective to refer to
plural nominals, in this case mariposas ‘butterflies (fem/pl),’ no, ita ‘no,
small (fem/sg).’
The analysis of Londa’s number mismatches can be explained for by two
factors. The first one is phonological in nature, consisting of the child
marking the plurality of the noun in only one constituent, for example,
either the nominal or the adjective. Similar results were found in her
production of full DPs, that is, the child marked the plurality either on the
determiner or in the nominal, for example, lo[h] caballo ‘the (masc/pl)
horse (masc/sg).’ The second one relates to a default value in operation,
134 First Language Acquisition in Spanish

Table 4.11 Distribution of predicative adjectives: older children


Target-like/Non-target-like Diana Pepe Total

Target-like (%) 24 (89) 47 (94) 71 (92)


Non-target-like (%) 3 (11) 3 (6) 6 (8)
Total (%) 27 (100) 50 (100) 77 (100)

that is, the child responded entirely in the singular form even when plural
cues were provided in the input. This issue is addressed in Chapter 5.
The results obtained from the data of the three children under study
were compared with the predicative adjective production of the two older
children, Diana and Pepe.
Table 4.11 displays the almost completely target-like production of Diana
and Pepe, with only six non-target-like utterances produced. In the case of
Diana, two non-target-like utterances were found with respect to number
agreement, as seen in Example 4.27.

Example 4.27

Child Target Referent


(a) *De amarilla (Son) amarillas [bolas]
‘Of yellow (fem/sg)’ ‘(They) (are) yellow (fem/pl)’
(b) *Son azul (Son) azules [bolas]
‘(They) are blue (unm/sg)’ ‘(They) (are) blue (unm/pl)’

Example 4.27(a), *De amarilla ‘Of yellow (fem/sg)’ illustrates a number


mismatch between the plural number feature of the referent bolas ‘balls
(fem/pl)’ and the singular number feature of the adjective amarilla. The
context of this utterance is shown in Example 4.28.

Example 4.28
Experimenter: ¿Bolas qué? ¿de qué color?
‘Balls (fem/pl) what? What color (balls)?’
Child: Este . . . bola[h]
‘Um... balls (fem/pl)’
Experimenter: ¿Bolas de qué color?
‘Balls (fem/pl) (of) what color?’
Child: *De amarilla
‘Of yellow (fem/sg)’
Number Agreement 135

In Example 4.28 the child responded in a target-like fashion terms of gen-


der but non-target-like in terms of number, that is, the singular feature of
the adjective amarilla ‘yellow’ does not match the plural feature of the nomi-
nal bolas ‘balls (fem/pl).’ Interestingly, the child copied the structure of the
question used by the experimenter in her answer de amarilla ‘of yellow,’ that
is, she used the preposition de ‘of’ with the color adjective. As discussed in
Chapter 3 on gender agreement, color adjectives in predicative structures
presented an interpretation challenge for the children under study (even
the older ones) between two possible structures, as seen in Example 4.29.

Example 4.29
(a) Las bolas son [PP de color amarillo]
The balls are [PP of the color [mas/sg] yellow [mas/sg]]
(b) Las bolas son [SC pro amarillas]
The balls are [PP pro [fem/pl] yellow [fem/pl]]

In Example 4.29(a) the adjective amarillo ‘yellow’ agrees with the masculine
singular features of the nominal color ‘color,’ whereas in Example 4.29(b),
it agrees with the plural feminine features of the nominal bolas. Example
4.27(a), then seems to indicate that this child’s grammar interprets the
structure in the question as in Example 4.29(a) and as a result, she copies
the preposition, that is, las bolas son de color amarillo ‘the balls are of the color
yellow.’ Notice that within the prepositional structural interpretation, only
the singular number is possible, cf. De color amarillo ‘Of color yellow (masc/
sg)’ versus *De color amarillos ‘Of color yellow (masc/pl).’
In the second non-target-like token shown in Example 4.27(b), *son azul
‘(they) are blue (unm/sg),’ Diana uttered the copula in the plural but the
adjective azul in the singular to refer to the nominal bolas ‘balls (fem/pl).’ This
token was produced as an answer to the experimenter’s question: Pero, ¿de qué
color? ‘But, (of) what color?’ If the structural misinterpretation hypothesis is
correct, this answer can be paraphrased as las bolas son de color azul ‘The balls
are of color blue (unm/sg)’ and as such is target-like in this child’s grammar.
Pepe’s non-target-like production is discussed next. Three non-target-like
examples (regarding agreement) were found in his data, two of them per-
tained to a mismatch of the number feature, as seen in Example 4.30.

Example 4.30
Child Target
(a) *Igual a esto[h] Iguales a estos
‘Similar (unm/sg) to these (masc/pl) ‘Similar (unm/pl) to these
[ones]’ (masc/pl) [ones]’
136 First Language Acquisition in Spanish

(b) *Desenmotao (Están) desmontados


‘[They] (are) disassembled (masc/sg)’ ‘[They] (are) disassembled
(masc/pl)’

In Examples 4.30(a) and 4.30(b) Pepe produced singular adjectives to


refer to plural nominals. Specifically, the child uttered the adjective igual
‘similar (unm/sg)’ in the singular while comparing two giraffes to two
horses. Nonetheless, in the same example, he produced the pronominal
esto[h] ‘these (masc/pl) (ones)’ in the plural to refer to the caballos ‘horses
(masc/pl).’ We should point out that Pepe produced the adjective igual in
other five instances, and all of them were target-like, for example, Esto[h]
son iguale[h] ‘These (masc/pl) (ones) are similar (unm/pl),’ to refer to
gatos ‘cats (masc/pl).’ The last non-target-like token shown in Example
4.30(b) was uttered as the answer to the experimenter’s question: ¿Cómo
están estos? ‘How are these (masc/pl) (ones)?’ pointing at the happy faces
of two trains. The child answered by saying desenmotao for desmontado ‘disas-
sembled (masc/sg)’ instead of [están] desmontados ‘(they) (are) disassem-
bled (masc/pl).’ In his answer, the child was referring to the fact that the
wagons were not attached to the trains. An explanation for this number
mismatch could be phonological in nature, that is, the child did not mark
the aspiration of the final –s.
The examination of predicative adjective data revealed a marked contrast
between the production levels of the two younger children (Elián and
Alonso) and the production of Londa; similar results were found in the
production of adjectives in attributive structures. In addition, the data
analysis (mostly of Londa’s production) showed that all non-target-like
utterances involved unmarked plurals, that is, the production of singular
adjectives to refer to plural nominals. This result is consistent with Londa’s
non-target-like attributive adjective production which involved the produc-
tion of singular adjectives to refer to plural nominals, for example, *azul
‘blue (unm/sg)’ instead of azules ‘blue (unm/pl).’ In addition, similar results
were found in the full DP data, that is, the three children produced non-
target-like examples in terms of number that involved the production of a
plural nominal with a singular determiner or vice versa, for example, *es ya
flore[h] (Elián) ‘[it] is the (fem/sg) flowers (fem/pl)’ instead of son las flores
‘[they] are the (fem/pl) flowers (fem/pl).’
Now we turn the discussion to the examination of number agreement in
demonstrative and third person (direct) object clitic pronouns. In the case
of demonstrative pronouns, the analysis showed that the children under
Number Agreement 137

Table 4.12 Distribution of demonstrative pronouns


Target-like/Non-target-like Elián Alonso Londa Total

Target-like (%) 8 (80) 21 (78) 111 (88) 140 (85)


Non-target-like (%) 2 (20) 6 (22) 17 (12) 25 (15)
Total (%) 10 (100) 27 (100) 128 (100) 165 (100)

Table 4.13 Clitic pronouns production


Target-like/ Elián Alonso Londa Total
Non-target-like
Masculine Feminine Masculine Feminine Masculine Feminine

Target-like (%) 2 1 15 5 5 2 30 (70)


Non-target-like (%) – 1 9 1 2 – 13 (30)
Total (%) 2 2 24 6 7 2 43 (100)

study (mostly Londa) produced a total of 165 utterances involving a demon-


strative pronoun, 85 percent target-like and 15 percent non-target-like in
terms of agreement, as shown in Table 4.12.
Interestingly, all non-target-like utterances produced pertained to the gen-
der feature. Moreover, the examination of reference yielded no mismatches
between the number feature encoded in the demonstrative pronouns and
that of the referents. These results are in contrast with those of the full DPs
and MPH/DPs: while non-target-like demonstrative pronouns involved a
mismatch of the gender feature, non-target-like DPs and MPHs involved
a mismatch of the number feature.
Finally, we present the results of the data analysis on third person direct
object clitics. The children under study produced a total of 43 clitics, dis-
tributed as follows: Alonso (30), Londa (9), and Elián (4), as can be seen in
Table 4.13. This table also shows that Alonso produced more than three
times the number of clitics than other two children. In addition, Table 4.13
indicates that clitic production was 70 percent target-like and 30 percent
non-target-like with regard to agreement. In particular, the analysis of num-
ber agreement revealed that the vast majority of the clitics produced were
singular and they referred to singular objects. Only two clitics were uttered
in the plural out of a total of 43 clitics produced by the three children, for
example, Ponla[h] aquí ‘Put them (fem/pl) here.’
138 First Language Acquisition in Spanish

The data analysis shows that the three children produced a total of 13
non-target-like clitics, but only three instances involved a number mismatch,
as shown in Example 4.31.

Example 4.31
Child Target Referent
(a) Vo gadarla (Alonso) Voy a guardarlos *[bloques]
‘(I) am going to put it ‘(I) am going to put them
(fem/sg)[away]’ (masc/pl) [away]’
(b) Coelo (Alonso) Cógelos *[zapatos]
‘Take it (masc/sg)’ ‘Take them (masc/pl)’
(c) La tiele (Elián) Las tienes *[mariposas]
‘[He/she] has it (fem/sg)’ ‘[You] have them (fem/pl)’

Example 4.31(a) displays a total mismatch of both the gender and the
number features. Alonso utters the feminine singular clitic, la ‘it’ to refer to
bloques ‘toy blocks’ a masculine plural nominal. Examples 4.31(b) and
4.31(c) involve a mismatch of the number feature. Specifically, in Example
4.31(b) Alonso produced the masculine singular clitic lo to refer to zapatos
‘shoes’ a masculine plural nominal; while in 4.31(c) Elián utters the femi-
nine singular clitic la to refer to the feminine plural nominal mariposas
‘butterflies.’ As discussed previously, these examples may be a product of
phonology not featural mismatch, given the phonological context for
aspiration, namely, final vowel + –s. However, this explanation seems plau-
sible in the case of Alonso because there is evidence in his production of
plurality. In the case of Elián, no conclusions can be drawn given his limited
and mostly singular production.

4.4.1 Preliminary Conclusions


The overall discussion of number points to a contrast in the acquisition of
the features, gender and number. On the one hand, we observed an almost
perfect gender agreement production within the DP structure, but chil-
dren were having difficulties (overtly) marking the plural number. On the
other hand, the analysis of predicative adjectives, demonstrative pronouns,
and third person clitics seems to point to the opposite result; namely, chil-
dren were having more problems with gender agreement than with num-
ber agreement. However, as I pointed out previously, the limited plural
contexts for these constituents in particular might have affected the final
results.
Number Agreement 139

Finally, the hypothesis of a delay in the acquisition of number finds


support from the data on Bare Nominal Phrases (BNPs), that is, nominals
uttered in isolation. The examination of BNPs produced showed that out of
a total of 87 nominals that were required to be marked with plural mor-
phology, only 21 (24 percent) were overtly marked as such. This result indi-
cates that the difference found in the acquisition of the number feature (in
comparison to the gender feature) goes beyond establishing grammatical
agreement. In fact, it is of a semantic nature; namely, children were having
problems matching the number of referents with the grammatical number
inflection of the nominals. In the next section I will discuss the contrast
between semantic and grammatical number agreement and its conse-
quences for the acquisition of the number feature.

4.4.2 Grammatical versus Semantic Agreement


The overall analysis of number agreement supports the hypothesis of a
delay in the acquisition of number morphology. I would like to argue that
the difficulty children encounter with the marking of number feature has
its basis in the complexity involved in the acquisition of this feature. On
the one hand, the learner has to acquire the morphological markers for
number, recognize that this feature is encoded in specific syntactic cate-
gories, and create the corresponding grammatical agreement relations
between the nominal and the agreeing constituents, as in the case of the
gender feature (Koehn 1994). On the other hand, the acquisition of num-
ber not only pertains to the cognitive task of understanding the difference
between one versus more than one, but it also involves a semantic analysis
of reference on the part of the learner, namely, the complex task of match-
ing the actual number of (nominal) referents with the corresponding num-
ber morphology, for example, Londa utters es un carro ‘it is a/one (masc/
sg) car (masc/sg)’ to refer to four cars. In this example, the (grammatical)
singular number feature of the determiner un matches the singular num-
ber feature of the nominal carro, but it does not match the intended plural
referent, namely, four cars. This contrast points out the need for further
analysis of plurality. Specifically, the distinction between grammatical num-
ber agreement (e.g., between a determiner and a noun) and semantic
number agreement for example, between the number feature encoded in
a particular DP and the number of objects it refers to). Notice that gender
agreement in turn does not involve the analysis of the features of the actual
referent, with the exception of natural gender.
In order to better understand children’s acquisition of number, utter-
ance tokens with plural referents were analyzed in terms of their semantic
140 First Language Acquisition in Spanish

Table 4.14 Summary of number non-target-like tokens


Structure Plural referents Non-target-like number production Total

Grammaticala Semanticb

(Full) DPs 21 7 8 15
MPH/DPs 9 3 5 8
Attributive adjectives 6 1 5 6
Predicative adjectives 6 2 4 6
Demonstratives 11 – – –
Third person clitics 5 1 2 3
Total 58 14 24 38
a
Grammatical non-target-like number refers to a number mismatch between the nominals and the
agreeing constituents.
b
Semantic non-target-like number refers to a mismatch between the number morphology of the DP and
the number of objects it refers to.

and grammatical agreement patterns. Table 4.14 provides a summary of the


non-target-like number utterances pertaining to grammatical and semantic
agreement.
Overall, Table 4.14 shows that out of a total of 58 tokens with a plural
referent, only 20 (34 percent) were marked for plurality in a target-like
fashion; the remaining 38 tokens involved a number mismatch, either
semantic or grammatical. In addition, Table 4.14 illustrates that the chil-
dren produced significantly more semantic number mismatches (24) than
grammatical ones (14). This difference was found significant (χ2 = 5.58,
p = 0.018). This contrast supports my hypothesis that children’s pluraliza-
tion problem pertains to the semantic aspect of the number feature. More-
over, we can see in Table 4.16 that children had difficulties marking plural
number in almost all the structures under study, with the exception of
the demonstrative pronouns. Finally, the analysis of BNPs revealed that
31 percent of the non-target-like BNP utterances produced by the three
children under study refer to a semantic mismatch, that is, the production
of singular BNPs to refer to more than one object.

4.4.3 Number Comprehension


This section examines the results obtained in the Number Comprehension
Task, “The Animal House.” The goal of this task was to explore whether the
cognitive component of number acquisition was one of the factors respon-
sible for the delay in the acquisition of number. Specifically, this task focused
Number Agreement 141

on whether the children understood the contrast between one versus more
than one.
The protocol for this task was that one (or more than one) animal was
sleepy and needed to go to the house to sleep. Then the experimenter
would ask the child, using a puppet, for one (or more) animal to take to the
house. Crucially animal props were set up in front of the child for her to
choose from, for example, two cats or three cows. Once a request was made,
children responded by selecting from the set of animals and taking to the
house or giving it to the puppet. Notice that this task separates the cognitive
aspect of number comprehension from the production aspect, that is, chil-
dren were responding by acting not speaking (see Chapter 2 for details).
Children’s responses were coded in two categories: (1) responsive, defined
as the child responding by giving a toy or toys to the experimenter or select-
ing the appropriate number of objects even if she did not pass them to the
experimenter; (2) non-responsive, defined as the child not giving anything at
all. The non-responsive category includes the following behaviors: refusals
(the child overtly refuses to give the requested toy); other responses
(includes behaviors such as hitting the puppet, asking for clarification for
example, ¿ah? ‘uh?,’ or simply pretending not to have heard the request);
and no response (the child is distracted at play). The results for this task are
summarized in Table 4.15.
This table also illustrates that the type of response varies from child to
child, for example, Londa never refused to give a toy or toys away, whereas
Elián and Adolfo frequently responded with an overt refusal. Hence, the
results of each child would be discussed on an individual basis. In the case
of Elián, his responses were distributed as follows: 10 responsive and 26
non-responsive, as illustrated in Table 4.15. Of the ten responsive acts car-
ried out by Elián, eight were target-like, that is, the child gave the number

Table 4.15 Comprehension: singular versus plural


Elián Alonso Londa Total

Responsive 10 15 8 31
Non-responsive refusals 10 15 – 31
Other response 12 14 5 29
No answer 4 12 – 14
Total 36a 56b 13c 103
a
A total of 10 different requests were made, excluding repetitions.
b
A total of 9 different requests were made, excluding repetitions.
c
A total of 8 different requests were made, excluding repetitions.
142 First Language Acquisition in Spanish

of objects requested, and two were non-target-like, that is, the child gave
an incorrect number of objects. Target-like responses were distributed as
follows: two responses were to feminine singular nouns, three to masculine
singular nouns, three to feminine plural nouns, whereas non-target-like
responses involved requests for two masculine plural nouns. This distribu-
tion points to the fact that this child was as likely to respond to requests with
feminine nominals as to requests with masculine ones, that is, five responses
to feminine requests and five to masculine ones.
Regarding Elián’s two non-target-like responses, both of them involved
the experimenter’s request for two objects, as shown in Example 4.32.

Example 4.32
(a) Experimenter: Dame dos, yo quiero dos (three cats available).
‘Give me two, I want two.’
Child: (responds by giving one cat)
(b) Experimenter: Dame dos de esos, vamos a guardarlos, dame dos.
‘Give me two of those (masc/pl), lets put them
(masc/pl) [away], give me two’ (pointing at the
three cats).
Child: (responds by giving one cat).

In Example 4.32(a) the experimenter requested two cats (of the three cats
present) from the child, while the child played with one. Elián responded
by giving the cat he was holding. In 4.32(b) the same request was repeated,
this time the three cats were inside the toy car the child was driving. Again
the child responded by giving only one cat. A possible explanation for the
non-target-like responses is that this child did not understand the numeral
“two” or perhaps he was more interested in playing than responding to the
experimenter’s requests. Another possibility is that the child did not under-
stand the difference between one and more than one. However, there is
evidence that the child understood a different kind of plural request, as
illustrated in Example 4.33.

Example 4.33
(a) Experimenter: ¿Dónde están las grandes? Dame las grandes.
‘Where are the (fem/pl) big (unm/pl) [ones]? Give
me the (fem/pl) big (unm/pl) [ones].’
Child: (responds by giving three butterflies).
(b) Experimenter: Búscalas ‘Find them (fem/pl).’
Child: (responds by picking up two of the batteries).
Number Agreement 143

Experimenter: ¿Dónde están las otras? Busca las otras.


‘Where are the (fem/pl) other (fem/pl) [ones]?
Find the (fem/pl) other (fem/pl) [ones]’
Child: (brings the missing batteries).

Elián responded in a target-like fashion to the plural requests made in


Example 4.33. In particular, in Example 4.33(a) the experimenter asked
Elián for las grandes ‘the big [ones]’ referring to the butterflies and the
child responded by bringing three butterflies, two big and one small. This
response is target-like because the task was assessing number comprehen-
sion and not the comprehension of adjectives like big and small. In Exam-
ple 4.32(b) the child responded correctly to the experimenter’s plural
requests. First, the experimenter asked the child to find the batteries (four
batteries available) that he just has dropped. The child reacted immediately
by picking up two of the batteries. Then the experimenter told him busca las
otras ‘find the others’ and he responded by finding the remaining two bat-
teries and bringing them to the experimenter. Utterances in Example 4.33
suggest that this child understands plural requests. Perhaps, he has not yet
acquired the numerals like dos ‘two.’ In general, Elián’s responses seem to
indicate that he understands the difference between a singular request and
a plural one, responding in a target-like fashion by bringing one object in
response to singular requests (five instances) and several objects in response
to plural ones (three instances).
In Alonso’s case, his responses were distributed as follows: 15 responsive
and 41 non-responsive, as shown in Table 4.15. Of the 15 responsive behav-
iors carried out by Alonso, 14 were target-like, that is, the child gave the
number of objects requested, and 1 was non-target-like, that is, the child
gave an incorrect number of objects. Alonso’s 14 target-like responses were
distributed as follows: 8 responses were for masculine singular nouns, 3 to
feminine singular nouns, 2 to masculine plural nouns and to a feminine
plural noun. His aunt made one of the three plural requests (involving
a plural masculine noun): Traile juguetes a Antonio ‘Bring toys for Antonio
[to play with].’ In this request she used a bare plural with an existential
interpretation, that is, bringing one or more than one toys would be consid-
ered appropriate response to this request. In this case the child chose to
give one toy. The distribution of Alonso’s responses seems to indicate that
this child was more likely to respond to masculine requests than to femi-
nine ones, that is, 10 responses to masculine nouns while 4 to feminine.
This distribution is consistent with this child’s overall data because the over-
whelming majority of his utterances involved masculine nominals.
144 First Language Acquisition in Spanish

As mentioned above, Alonso responded in a non-target-like fashion in


only one instance, as seen in Example 4.34.

Example 4.34
(a) Experimenter: Mira las mariposas. Dame las grandes.
‘Look at the (fem/pl) butterflies (fem/pl). Give me
the (fem/pl) big (unm/fem) [ones].’
Child: ¿La[h] grande[h]?
‘The (fem/pl) big (unm/pl) [ones]?’ (repeats the
request; hands the big snake).

In the dialogue in Example 4.34 the experimenter requested the big but-
terflies; there were four butterflies available, two big and two small. Notice
that when the request was made Alonso was not in front of the butterflies.
His immediate reaction was to repeat the request in the form of a question,
¿la[h] grande[h]? ‘the big [ones]?’ and then he proceeded to bring a big
snake instead of the big butterflies. Interestingly enough, the noun serpiente
‘snake’ matches the feminine gender features of the noun ‘butterflies.’
Since the noun ‘butterflies’ was dropped (or omitted) in this request, the
child might have chosen a different referent that matched the gender fea-
tures of the request. However, there was no other big snake to bring to the
experimenter to match the plural number feature of the requested object.
The child never uttered the nominal serpiente or culebra ‘snake’ so in fact,
we have no evidence that he actually knows it. This response could be an
error due to the limited attention span of the child or simply a response
that shows his preference for particular toys. These results seem to point to
the fact that this child has some awareness of the difference between one
and more than one, as illustrated by his responses.
Londa’s behavior in this task contrasted from the behavior of the two
children discussed. First, neither “overt refusals” nor “no answers” to the
experimenter’s requests were found in her data. This might reflect a social
maturation factor, that is, this child was willing to participate in the task
sharing “her” toys, unlike the other two children. Londa’s responses were
distributed as follows: eight responsive answers and five other responses.
Of the eight responsive behaviors, five were target-like and three were
non-target-like. All her target-like responses were to singular requests: two
responses to feminine nouns and three responses to masculine nouns.
Regarding this child’s three non-target responses, all of them involved a
request for more than one object and the child responding by giving one
object, as illustrated in Example 4.35.
Number Agreement 145

Example 4.35
(a) Experimenter: Me puedes dar las grandes. ¿Dónde están las grandes?
‘Can you give me the (fem/pl) big (unm/pl) [ones]?’
Where are the (fem/pl) big (unm/pl) [ones]?
Child: Aquí (pointing at the butterflies). ‘Here.’
Experimenter: Dámelas. ‘Give them (fem/pl) to me.’
Child: Toa (for toma). ‘Take.’
(gave one big butterfly to the experimenter).
Experimenter: ¿Hay más? ‘Are there (any) more?’
Child: Mía for mira. ‘Look’
(gave the other one to the experimenter).
(b) Experimenter: ¿Me das los azules? [Blue elephants]
‘Would you give me the (masc/pl) blue (unm/pl)
[ones]?’
Child: Sí. ‘Yes.’
Experimenter: ¿Dónde están los azules?
‘Where are the (masc/pl) blue (unm/pl) (ones)?’
Child: Aquí. ‘Here’ (gave one blue elephant to the
experimenter).
Experimenter: ¿Hay más?
‘Are there (any) more?’
Child: Aquí. ‘Here’ (gave another blue elephant).
Experimenter: ¿Hay más o no? ‘Are there [any] more or not?’
Child: Sí ira for mira. ‘Yes look’ (gave the last blue
elephant).

Utterances in Example 4.35 illustrate the nature of Londa’s non-target-like


responses. Specifically, in Example 4.35(a) the experimenter requested las
grandes ‘the big [ones]’ referring to the butterflies. There were four but-
terflies available: two big and two small. Londa responded by giving only
one of the possible two big butterflies. Then the experimenter followed up
by asking the child if there were any more butterflies: ¿hay más? The child
reacted by giving the other big butterfly to the experimenter. Example
4.35(b) is similar to the previous example. In this case the experimenter
asked the child for los azules ‘the blue [ones],’ in reference to the elephants.
There were three blue elephants and one gray. Once more the child
responded by giving only one elephant to the experimenter. Interestingly,
every time the experimenter asked the child if there were any more, the
child gave the correct “type” of objects requested. The third non-target-like
response was similar to the two illustrated in Example 4.35. In this instance,
146 First Language Acquisition in Spanish

the experimenter requested two white cats: ¿Me das dos gatos blancos? ‘Would
you give me two white (masc/pl) cats (masc/pl)?’ Londa gave only one cat
(of the three available) to the experimenter.
The analysis of Londa’s data revealed that she had problems interpreting
the plural requests, that is, out of the three plural requests made all of them
received a singular object as a response. One possibility is to conclude that
this child does not understand the difference between singular and plural.
However, this conclusion would be precipitous in light of her overall pro-
duction. First, Londa produced several target-like plural DPs that referred
to plural referents, as in Example 4.36.

Example 4.36
(a) uno[h] dulce[h] ‘some candies’
(b) una[h] llave[h ‘some keys’

Utterances in Example 4.36 show Londa’s target-like use of plurality.


Specifically, she produced Example 4.36(a) to refer to the balls inside a
toy that look to her like candy, and Example 4.36(b) to refer to two keys.
Second, Londa spontaneously indicated in a target-like fashion that there
were two objects of the same kind.

Example 4.37
(a) Child: sita for casita ‘house (diminutive/fem/sg)’
Experimenter: ¿Y quién vive ahí? ‘And who lives there?’
Child: Estos do[h] ‘These (masc/pl) two.’
(b) Child: Mira do[h] pielna[h] ‘Look two legs’
Experimenter: ¿Qué tiene? ‘What does (he) have?’
Child: Do[h] pielna[h]. ‘Two legs.’

Utterances in Example 4.37 show that Londa understands the concept of


plurality by using the numeral two to refer to two objects. In particular, the
child uttered Example 4.37(a) as a response to the experimenter’s question
regarding who lived in the little house. The child indicated that the two
snakes (she called them lagartijo ‘lizard’) lived in the small house, while
pointing at the two snakes. Example 4.37(b) illustrates a spontaneous utter-
ance of the child in which she indicated the parts of the body of her dog.
Specifically, he stated that the dog had two legs in the back: mira dos pielna[h].
Moreover, in another instance the experimenter asked the child to count
the bananas available showing her two bananas: ¿Y cuántos hay aquí mira?
‘And how many are here, look?’ The child responded in a target-like fash-
ion saying: Dos ‘Two.’
Number Agreement 147

Another possibility to account for her non-target-like responses to plural


requests is to posit that in this child’s grammar the interpretation of plural-
ity is defined in a different fashion than in the target grammar. In particu-
lar, Londa’s concept of plurality is not defined as a totality of objects (i.e.,
collective interpretation) but as a group of individual units, that is, a dis-
tributive interpretation. That is, in her grammar a phrase like “the blue
elephants” is interpreted as: “one blue elephant + one blue elephant + one
blue elephant” instead of the summation of all the elephants, that is, “three
blue elephants.” This hypothesis finds support in her overall production.

Example 4.38
(a) Child: Tá tistre, este tá feli[h], este tá feli[h]
‘[It] is sad, this [one] is happy, this [one] is happy’
Target: Está triste, estos están felices
‘[It] is sad, these [ones] are happy’
(b) Experimenter: ¿Y estos dos?
And these two?’
Child: Este es bebé, bebé
‘This [one] is baby, baby’
Target: Estos son los bebés
‘These two are the babies’

The examples above illustrate Londa’s distributive plurality concept. In par-


ticular, the child produced 4.38(a) to refer to the toy fishes. Notice that
instead of using the plural to include the two fishes that were happy the
child repeated the singular predicative structure pointing at each fish indi-
vidually. The target utterance should have been as illustrated in Example
4.38(a): estos están felices ‘these are happy (unm/pl).’ The context of the
dialogue in Example 4.38(b) was the child assigning family roles to the four
horses available. Then the experimenter asked the child about the two
small horses: ¿Y éstos dos? ‘And these two?’ Once more, the child responded
by naming each small horse individually: este es bebé, bebé. Crucially, the child
pointed at each horse as she repeated the nominal. The target utterance
should have been the nominal in the plural: estos son los bebés ‘these are the
babies.’ Interestingly, Pepe, one of the two oldest children included in the
present study, also produced this type of “plural” utterances, as shown in
Example 4.39.

Example 4.39
un cocodrilo, un delfín y una ballena y una ballena
‘a crocodile, a dolphin and a whale and a whale’
148 First Language Acquisition in Spanish

In Example 4.39, Pepe repeats the singular DP una ballena instead of using
the plural form of the DP, dos ballenas ‘two whales’ or unas ballenas ‘some
whales.’
Notice that this type of utterance is available in the target grammar when
the objects to be named are different (e.g., este es el grande y éste es el chiquito
‘this is the big one and this is the small one’) or when the speaker wants to
emphasize the components of a group, for example, este no me gustó, este
no me gustó pero este sí ‘this one I did not like, this one I did not like but this
one I liked.’
Londa’s non-target-like responses might point to a parsing preference in
this child’s early grammar, the distributive interpretation. Miyamoto and
Crain (1991) conducted an experiment the distinction in child grammar
between the collective and the distributive readings of plural NPs, using
24 children between the ages of 3;0 and 6;0. The experiment presented the
children ambiguous situations in two parts to determine if they had access
to the collective and distributive interpretations. In the first situation, two
characters (Ernie and Big Bird) participated in a lifting competition that
ended with each character succeeding in lifting two cans each, that is, the
distributive condition. Then Kermit the Frog described what he thought has
taken place, saying: They are lifting four cans. This statement was false prag-
matically. In the second part, Ernie still wanted to win the competition and
tried to lift four cans by himself but they were too heavy. Then Big Bird
helped him and together they managed to lift the four cans. Once more,
Kermit stated what occurred: They are holding four cans, that is, the collective
condition. Kermit’s statement was pragmatically true. The study found that
children responded affirmatively to the collective interpretation 89 percent
of the time, while they rejected Kermit’s false statement 70 percent of the
time. Miyamoto and Crain concluded that children can access both inter-
pretations. Interestingly, they found that children younger than 5 rejected
Kermit’s false statement in 84 percent of the instances, that is, compared
with 70 percent for all children. They interpret this result as an indication
that younger children might prefer the distributive interpretation over the
collective interpretation. I speculate that this is the case in Londa’s gram-
mar, even in the case of unambiguous plural requests. Another possibility is
that she did not understand her expected response in this particular task.
The discussion of the “Animal House” task findings revealed several
aspects regarding number. First, none of three children had problems com-
prehending the singular number requests. Second, all the non-target-like
responses involved giving a singular object to a plural request. In particular,
Elián seemed to have difficulties understanding the numeral dos ‘two’ but
Number Agreement 149

Table 4.16 Comprehension: singular versus plural


Diana Pepe

Singular request Plural request Singular request Plural request

Responsive 3 3 2 3
Non-responsive – – – –
Total 3 3 2 3

his target-like responses to other plural requests seem to indicate that he


does understand the difference between one and more than one. In Alonso’s
case, his non-target-like response could be due to a short attention span;
this particular child was very physically active. Nonetheless, he responded
target-like to other plural requests. Londa’s data presented different results
regarding the understanding of plural requests, that is, the three plural
requests made by the experimenter received non-target-like responses. It
was argued that in this child’s grammar had a distributive parsing prefer-
ence, that is, plurality is interpreted as comprised of individual objects seen
as independent units, and not as a sum. Evidence for this hypothesis was
found in her overall production, for example, Londa repeated singular
nominals instead of using a plural phrase to refer to a group of objects with
the same characteristics.
These findings on the Comprehension Task were compared with the
responses of the two older children, Diana and Pepe, to the same task.
Diana’s and Pepe’s responses to this task were all target-like. In particular,
they responded to both singular and plural requests without any difficulty,
as shown in Table 4.16. This table illustrates that these two children had
no problems completing the Comprehension task. In particular, Diana’s
responses were all “responsive” and target-like. Her responses were distrib-
uted as follows: three responses to singular requests and three responses to
plural requests. Similarly, Pepe responded to all the requests in a target-like
fashion. Specifically, his answers were distributed as follows: two responses
to singular requests and three responses to plural requests. This points to
the fact that these two children have no difficulties in number comprehen-
sion at this stage of acquisition.

4.4.3.1 Overall Conclusions


The discussion of number indicates that the acquisition of this feature does
not take place uniformly, that is, the analysis revealed that learners differed
150 First Language Acquisition in Spanish

in the acquisition of different aspects of number. In terms of the grammati-


cal and morphological aspects, the data analysis found that the children
tended to produce singular marked Determiner Phrases (and Bare Nomi-
nals) to refer to plural referents. However, I should point out that when
Alonso and Londa did mark plural number, they did so in a target-like fash-
ion, with the exception of the phonological context for final –s aspiration,
namely, a final vocalic segment. In contrast, Elián’s production can be char-
acterized as all singular.
In terms of the cognitive aspect of number, namely number comprehen-
sion, the data showed that while Elián and Alonso responded in a target-like
fashion to some of the plural requests made, Londa’s responses to plural
requests were all non-target-like. Nonetheless, I found evidence in her over-
all production that she had an awareness of number distinctions. Finally,
the data showed that the three children were having problems with the
semantic aspect of number; that is, they were having difficulties matching
the plurality encoded in the referents with the grammatical features of the
nominals. I have argued that it is this part of number acquisition that might
cause the delay exhibited in the marking of the plural number feature.
Chapter 5

Emergence of Determiner Phrases

One of the central aims of the present monograph is to define the nature of
nominal in Spanish early grammars, within the framework of the Minimalist
Program (Chomsky 1995, 2001). In this framework, agreement is seen as a
feature checking process, in which functional categories, such as Determiner
Phrases, play a key role. In this chapter I explore the emergence of the
Determiner Phrase in the production of the three children under study
(Elián, Alonso, and Londa) and in doing so, I examine the evidence in sup-
port of the availability of functional projections in Spanish early grammars.
In particular, the analysis will be focused on the data on determiner omis-
sions or Bare Nominals, Monosyllabic Place Holders (Bottari, Cipriani,
& Chilosi 1993/1994) Determiner Phrases, and (full) Determiner Phrases
(DPs), and the interaction among these structures in child language.
In addition, I will address in this chapter the debate about the initial
state, namely, continuous versus discontinuous approaches to language
acquisition. The focus of the discussion will be on the explanatory adequacy
of these two approaches to language acquisition, that is, their ability to
account for the data produced by the children as well as to explain how
these children will converge into the target grammar. Notice that continu-
ous and discontinuous approaches make different predictions regarding
the initial state; and in particular, the availability of functional categories
such as the DP. On the one hand, continuous approaches, specifically the
Weak Continuity Hypothesis, state that children’s grammar is qualitatively the
same as adult’s grammar in that they are both guided by Universal Grammar
(UG). As a result, children’s production may vary from the target grammar
but should not violate any principles of UG (Crain & Pietrosky 2001; Pinker
1984). Crucially, continuous approaches to language acquisition do not
predict instantaneous acquisition because children still have to map their
abstract linguistic knowledge to the primary linguistic data, as pointed by
Valian, Solt, and Stewart (2009). For the present study on the acquisition
of nominal agreement, children are assumed to have the abstract category
152 First Language Acquisition in Spanish

of determiner but they will need to map it to the specification of the Spanish
language, for example, strong agreement features and Case requirements.
Nonetheless, this version of the Weak Continuity Hypothesis predicts
that in the course of the acquisition process children’s non-target-like pro-
duction will be acceptable in a language because they are guided by UG.
Specifically, this hypothesis assumes that children would be as successful
establishing target-like agreement relations with nominals canonically
marked for gender (i.e., masculine nouns ending in the word maker –o,
and feminine nouns ending in the word marker –a), as well as with nomi-
nals non-canonically marked (e.g., nominals ending in the vowel –e or
a consonant), because children are not matching endings but checking
features like the adult grammar does.
On the other hand, discontinuous approaches, such as the usage-based
approach (e.g., Pine & Lieven 1997; Tomasello 2000, 2003) state that chil-
dren start the acquisition process with no language-specific knowledge but
with the general cognitive learning mechanisms. In this approach, children
build or construct their grammar in a piecemeal fashion, based on the reg-
ularities extracted from the input. This hypothesis predicts that children’s
output will match the primary linguistic input because that is the basis of
the grammar they are constructing. Furthermore, children are expected to
extract the regularities available in the input to build their grammar, such
as masculine nominals in Spanish end in the word marker –o and feminine
nominals in the word marker –a. Then, this hypothesis predicts that chil-
dren would be more successful establishing target-like gender agreement
with nominals canonically marked for gender than with nominals non-
canonically marked because of the abundance in the input of examples
exhibiting these agreement patterns, that is, children would be able to
make the connection between these particular endings and their associated
gender in general. We turn the discussion now to the emergence of DP in
the grammar of the children under study.

5.1 DPs in Spanish Child Language

Studies on the acquisition of Spanish DPs have described the initial stages
of acquisition of this functional category as being characterized by the omis-
sion of the obligatory determiners; the production of a vocalic element in
the slot a determiner would occupy in adult language; and a limited pro-
duction of adult-like DPs (e.g., Aguirre 1995; Hernández Pina 1984; López
Ornat 1997, 2003; among others). Although these acquisition studies mostly
Emergence of DP 153

agree on this characterization, they differ on the interpretation given to


these linguistic phenomena. On the one hand, some researchers interpret
children’s non-adult-like production as a deficit in initial grammar or as
evidence of the lack of abstract knowledge (e.g., Hernández Pina 1984;
López Ornat 2003; Tomasello 2003), for example, determiner omissions
are interpreted as evidence of a lack of this functional projection in the
grammar. On the other hand, others explain them as part of the process of
mapping abstract representations to the primary linguistic data (Chierchia,
Guasti, & Gualmini 2000; Crain & Thornton 1998; Lleó 1997, 2001). At the
heart of these different interpretations of the data are the assumptions made
by the researchers regarding the initial state, one in which there is continu-
ity between the child’s grammar and the adult’s grammar or one in which
the two systems are qualitatively different, hence discontinuous. In what
follows I examine the issue of the availability of functional categories in the
context of these two approaches, using the experimental data produced by
the three children under study: Elián, Alonso, and Londa.
The analysis of the data produced by the three children under study
yielded a total of 394 Bare Nominal Phrases or Bare Nominal utterances,
that is, nominals produced in isolation. The production of Bare Nominals
(BNs) was distributed as follows: 179 (45 percent) target-like and 215 (55
percent) non-target-like, as illustrated in Table 5.1. The chi-squared test
revealed that there was no significant difference between the two totals
(χ2 = 3.29, p = .07). This result seems to indicate that children were as likely
to produce a target-like BN as a non-target-like BN.
Notice that the expression ‘target-like’ with respect to BNs means that the
utterance is acceptable in the target language. I should point out, that not
all the 215 non-target-like BNs produced by the children pertained to the
omission of the determiner. Two major types of non-target-like BN utter-
ances were produced by the children under study. The first one involved
the production of a non-plural marked BN to refer to a plural referent, for
example, flol ‘flower’ instead of flores ‘flowers’ to refer to the four flowers
present in the context (see Chapter 4 for discussion). The second type of

Table 5.1 Distribution of Bare Nominal production


Target-like/Non-target-like Elián Alonso Londa Total

Target-like (%) 37 (49) 56 (53) 86 (40) 179 (45)


Non-target-like (%) 39 (51) 49 (47) 127 (60) 215 (55)
Total (%) 76 (100) 105 (100) 213 (100) 394 (100)
154 First Language Acquisition in Spanish

Table 5.2 Non-target-like BNPs produced


Singular reference Plural reference Ambiguous Total

Determiner omissions Unmarked plurala Bare pluralsb

Elián 23 (59%) 15 (38%) 1 (3%) 39 (100%)


Alonso 32 (65%) 16 (33%) 1 (2%) 49 (100%)
Londa 83 (65%) 35 (28%) 2 (2%) 7 (5%) 127 (100%)
Total 138 (64%) 66 (31%) 2 (1%) 9 (4%) 215 (100%)
a
Singular nominals that referred to plural referents.
b
Determiner omissions with plural marked nominals.

non-target-like BN produced by the three children consisted of the produc-


tion of a Bare Nominal Phrase, that is, a noun without the obligatory deter-
miner, for example, casha (for casa) ‘house’ instead of una casa ‘a house.’
The distribution of these two types of non-target-like utterances is presented
in Table 5.2.
Of particular interest here is the issue of determiner omission in obliga-
tory contexts, as shown in Table 5.2. Overall, the omission of the deter-
miner (with singular nominals) is the most common type of non-target-like
Bare Nominal found in the data, accounting for 64 percent (138) of the
total non-target-like production, as seen in Table 5.2. The individual propor-
tions per child support the previous generalization; determiner omissions
accounted for about two-thirds of the non-target-like BNs produced by each
child: Elián (59 percent), Alonso (65 percent), and Londa (65 percent).
These results are consistent with Pizutto and Caselli’s (1992) findings for
the acquisition of the Italian determiner. The researchers found that the
most common non-adult production of the children under study was the
omission of the obligatory determiners.
In order to assess how pervasive determiner omissions were in the pro-
duction of these three children, the number of the nominals produced
with a (full) determiner in obligatory contexts was calculated, that is, the
target-like utterances. Table 5.3 illustrates a comparison between the deter-
miner omission proportions versus the production of (full) determiners in
obligatory contexts.
The analysis shows that out of a total of 212 obligatory contexts for
determiners, in only 74 (35 percent) cases children produced a (full) deter-
miner, that is, children omitted the determiner in about two-thirds of the
obligatory contexts (65 percent). Interestingly, the three children exhibit
similar proportions between Bare Nominal Phrases (BNPs) and nominals
Emergence of DP 155

Table 5.3 Determiner omission and production in obligatory contexts: singular


referent
Determiner omission (Full) determiner production Total

Elián 23 (74%) 8 (1)a (26%) 31 (100%)


Alonso 32 (64%) 18 (0) (36%) 50 (100%)
Londa 83 (63%) 48 (1) (37%) 131 (100%)
Total 138 (65%) 74 (2) (35%) 212 (100%)
a
Number in parentheses indicates non-target-like production.*
*
The two non-target-like DP utterances were: (a) *ía la juguete ‘look the (fem/sg) toy (masc/sg)’ for mira
el juguete ‘look the (masc/sg) toy (masc/sg);’ and b)*mira él/el pielna ‘look (at) he/the(masc/sg) leg
(fem/sg)’ for mira las/sus piernas ‘look (at) the(fem/pl)/his legs (fem/pl).’ See Chapter 3 for a discussion
of these examples.

Table 5.4 Non-target-like BNs produced: plural referent


Singular reference Plural reference Ambiguous Total
a b
Determiner omissions Unmarked plural Bare plurals

Elián 23 (59%) 15 (38%) – 1 (3%) 39 (100%)


Alonso 32 (65%) 16 (33%) – 1 (2%) 49 (100%)
Londa 83 (65%) 35 (28%) 2 (2%) 7 (5%) 127 (100%)
Total 138 (64%) 66 (31%) 2 (1%) 9 (4%) 215 (100%)
a
Singular nominals that referred to plural referents.
b
Determiner omissions with plural marked nominals.

produced with a determiner, with Elián showing a slightly higher rate of


omission (74 percent) than the other two children, Alonso (64 percent)
and Londa (63 percent).
We turn the discussion to the analysis of the other non-target-like BNs
produced by the children under study in terms of the use of an obligatory
determiner. These additional non-target-like BNs include the production
of unmarked plurals (i.e., singular nominals used to refer to a plural refer-
ent) and bare plurals (i.e., plural nominals used without an obligatory
determiner), as shown in Table 5.2 above, repeated here as Table 5.4.
Table 5.4 shows that the three children produced 66 utterances involving
unmarked plurals. The analysis of the obligatoriness of a determiner in
these cases is not as transparent as it was in the case of nouns with a singular
referent. The complexity relies on the fact that Spanish grammar allows for
plural BNs, except in subject position. In order to examine whether deter-
miners were obligatory in these structures or not, the structural position in
156 First Language Acquisition in Spanish

which the 66 utterances occurred was analyzed. The structural analysis


revealed that in ten instances a determiner was required. These ten cases
were distributed as follows: seven utterances involved nominals in the sub-
ject position, two involved nominals referring to specific objects, and one
involved a nominal with a generic reading, as illustrated in Example 5.1.

Example 5.1

Child Target
(a) *Se cayó caballo (Alonso) Se cayeron los caballos
‘Fell (3rd person sg) horse’ ‘Fell (3rd person pl) the (masc/sg)
horses’
(b) *Eso es bebé (Londa) Esos son los bebés
‘That (neut) is baby’ ‘Those (masc/pl) are the (fem/pl)
babies’
(c) *A ve batía (Elián) [Vamos] a ver las baterías
‘To see battery’ ‘(Lets) (to) see the (fem/pl)
batteries’

The Bare Noun Phrases (BNPs) in Example 5.1 are non-target-like for two
reasons. First, the children used a singular noun to refer to a plural refer-
ent, as discussed in Chapter 4. Second, these examples are non-adult-like
because Spanish grammar does not allow BNPs in these particular contexts.
Specifically, in Example 5.1(a) Alonso utters a singular BNP in subject posi-
tion to refer to the two horses that fell down, that is, caballo ‘horse’ instead
of los caballos ‘the horses,’ whereas in Example 5.1(b) Londa identifies the
two small horses that the experimenter is holding as bebé instead of los bebés
‘the (fem/pl) babies (fem/pl).’ Finally, in Example 5.1(c) Elián uses a BNP
to refer to a generic group of objects, batteries. Notice that Spanish marks
generic groups such as batteries, with use of the definite determiner, for
example, las baterías ‘the (fem/pl) batteries (fem/pl).’
In terms of the non-target-like Bare Plurals (BPs) produced, that is, plu-
ral nominals produced without an obligatory determiner, only two exam-
ples were found in the data, as shown in Table 5.4. In these examples Londa
produced a BP in structures that required the production of the definite
determiner, as presented in Example 5.2.

Example 5.2
Child Target
(a) *Flole[h] las flores
‘Flowers (fem/pl)’ ‘the (fem/pl) flowers (fem/pl)’
Emergence of DP 157

(b) *A él le gusta china[h] A él le gustan las chinas


‘To him oranges (fem/pl) is pleasing’ ‘To him oranges are pleasing’

In Example 5.2(a) the child utters this BP as an answer to the experiment-


er’s question: ¿Qué se comió? ‘What did he eat up?’ The target-like response
should have been las flores ‘the flowers’ in this particular case because of the
presence of the emphatic clitic se, that is used in the grammar to mark total-
ity. If the question had been phrased as ¿Qué comió? ‘What did (he) eat?’ the
child’s answer flore[h] would have been target-like, that is, a BP occurring
in object position is allowed by the Spanish grammar. It might be the case
that in this child’s grammar this BP is allowed because the distinction
between comer ‘to eat’ and comerse ‘to eat up’ has not been established yet in
her lexicon. Example 5.2(b) illustrates the second non-target-like BP pro-
duced by Londa. In this case, the BP is produced with the verb gustar ‘to be
pleasing,’ which belongs to the verb class in Spanish known as “affective
verbs.” This particular type of verb takes an inanimate subject, for example,
las chinas ‘the oranges,’ that affects an indirect object experiencer, for exam-
ple, él ‘him,’ as pointed out by Gutiérrez Ordónez (1999). This example is
non-target-like because the child uses a BP in subject position, which is not
allowed in the Spanish grammar. However, this particular structure with the
unaccusative verb gustar is marked in the Spanish grammar as it does not
follow the canonical word order in Spanish, namely Subject-Verb-Object as
in a structure such as yo como chinas ‘I eat oranges.’ The structure with
the verb gustar follows a marked word order instead: Indirect Object-Verb-
Subject. It could be the case that in this child’s grammar this structure with
gustar is not yet available. As a result, she generates it following the canonical
structure, that is, “He likes oranges” instead of “Oranges are pleasing to him.”
If this analysis is on the right track, it would explain the fact that the child utters
the verb gustar in the singular form, for example, gusta, agreeing with the sin-
gular indirect object (él ‘him’) and not with the plural subject las chinas.
The previous discussion points out that the analysis of BNs in child lan-
guage is a complex task that involves the examination of syntactic compo-
nents, such as structural position, and the analysis of whether determiners
are obligatory or not. Overall, the examination of the BN data showed that
determiner omission is a pervasive phenomenon among the three children,
which is consistent with findings from previous studies (Pizzutto & Caselli
1992 for the acquisition of Italian; Schnell de Acedo 1994; Snyder 1995,
2007 for Spanish).
Support for the previous conclusion is found in the production of adjec-
tives in attributive structures. Production of attributive adjectives by the
three children under study was very scarce, as illustrated in Table 5.5.
158 First Language Acquisition in Spanish

Table 5.5 Distribution of attributive adjectives


Target-like/Non-target-like Elián Alonso Londa Total

Target-like (%) 2 (100) 1 (100) 9 (60) 12 (67)


Non-target-like (%) – – 6 (40) 6 (33)
Total (%) 2 (100) 1 (100) 15 (100) 18 (100)

Table 5.5 illustrates that the two younger children barely produced any
utterances with an attributive adjective, for a total of three utterances pro-
duced, as seen in Example 5.3.

Example 5.3

Child utterance Target utterance


(a) *Mira gande (Elián) Mira una/la grande
‘Look (at) big [one]’ ‘Look (at) a/the (fem/sg) big
[one]’
(b) Si cayó, ecito (Elián) Se cayó, pobrecito
‘[he] fell down, poor (masc/sg)’ ‘[he] fell down, poor (masc/sg)’
(c) ¡Mira carito bonito! (Alonso) Mira un carrito bonito
‘Look car (dim/masc/sg) ‘Look a (masc/sg) car (dim/
pretty (masc/sg)!’ masc/sg) pretty (masc./sg.)!’

The analysis of the utterances in Example 5.3 points to the fact that all of
them involve the omission of an obligatory determiner, as discussed in
Chapter 3. In particular, Example 5.3(a) shows that Elián omitted the
obligatory determiner as he pointed at one orange, for example, mira gande
‘look big’ instead of mira una/la grande ‘look [at] a/the big (one),’ while in
Example 5.3(b), he omitted the determiner el ‘the’ to refer to a doll, el
pobrecito ‘the poor [one].’ Similarly, in Example 5.3(c) Alonso was excited
to see a toy car and produced the attributive adjective mira carito bonito ‘look
pretty car’ instead of mira un carrito bonito ‘look a pretty car’ with the obliga-
tory determiner. In contrast to the limited production of the two younger
children, Londa produced 15 attributive adjective utterances, as shown in
Table 5.5. Interestingly, Londa’s production reflects a pervasive omission of
obligatory determiners, that is, she produced 1 out of the 15 determiners
required. Example 5.4 illustrates some of the utterances produced by this
child.
Emergence of DP 159

Example 5.4

Child Target Referent


(a) Yo engo gande Yo tengo el grande [teléfono]
‘I have big (unm/sg) [one]’ ‘I have the (masc/sg) big
(masc/sg) [one]’
(b) Tistre ya anó El triste ya ganó [tren]
‘Sad (unm/sg) [one] already won’ ‘The (masc/sg) sad (masc/sg)
[one] already won’
(c) Feli[h] El feliz [tren]
‘Happy (unm/sg) [one]’ ‘The (masc/sg) happy
(masc/sg) [one]’
(d) Azul El azul [pez]
‘Blue (unm/sg) [one]’ ‘The (masc/sg) blue (masc/sg)
[one]’

Utterances in Example 5.4 illustrate Londa’s determiner omissions, all of


them characterized by the production of the adjective without the obliga-
tory determiner el ‘the.’ Furthermore, all the utterances in Example 5.4
involve N-drop, that is, the adjective appears in isolation, for example, Azul
‘Blue,’ instead of El (tren) azul ‘the (train) blue’ (see Chapter 3 for a com-
plete discussion).
The phenomenon of determiner omission in the production of the three
children under study could be interpreted in terms of acquisition as evi-
dence that these children are not projecting a DP in Spanish initial gram-
mar. Notice that a comparison between determiner omission and production
yielded a rate of omission in obligatory contexts of 65 percent. Further-
more, within the usage-based approach to language acquisition, children
construct structure on the basis of the input in a piecemeal fashion. We
could argue that in the case of the children under study, they have not yet
acquired the determiner category and as a result they produce bare nomi-
nals. Then this approach needs to explain how children will converge into
the target language, as they are expected to construct abstract categories
on the basis of the input they are exposed to. One could speculate that they
will start with a few nominals and the corresponding determiner and then
be able to expand to the projection of the category itself. However, it is not
clear how children would keep a record of the nominals already linked to
a particular determiner. This presents a cumbersome task in terms of
learnability, as pointed out by Crain and Thornton (2006). Moreover, since
160 First Language Acquisition in Spanish

usage-based approaches assume no underlying linguistic knowledge, it is


not clear how children would parse the input for determiners if they do not
have the abstract concept of this category.
In contrast, a continuous approach to language acquisition expects
children to deviate from the language of their community as long as they
do not violate the principles of UG. The (weak) continuity hypothesis would
interpret determiner omission in obligatory contexts as evidence that chil-
dren are speaking a different language, not as a deficit in children’s gram-
mar. In particular, we could argue that the three children under study are
“speaking Chinese” because this language lacks determiners, as proposed
by Chierchia, Guasti, and Gualmini (2000). The researchers proposed
a UG-based semantic parameter on noun interpretations, the Nominal
Mapping Parameter. According to this analysis, nouns can be interpreted in
three different ways, as illustrated in Example 5.5.

Example 5.5
Nominal Mapping Parameter
(a) N [+ arg – pred] Classifier languages, for example, Chinese
(b) N [+ arg + pred] Germanic languages, for example, English
(c) N [– arg + pred] Romance languages, for example, Italian

Example 5.5 illustrates the three possible values for the NMP. In languages
like Chinese, as shown in Example 5.5(a), NPs are arguments; therefore,
they can occur bare in argument position, whereas Germanic languages
like English, present a mixed system, as shown in 5.5(b). In these languages,
nouns may behave like arguments (e.g., they can occur bare) or predicates
(e.g., they require an overt determiner). Finally, in Romance languages such
as Spanish, NPs are predicates, as shown in 5.5(c). As a result, in Romance
languages, BNs cannot be arguments; that is, nominals need an overt deter-
miner to turn into an argument in these languages (see Chapter 4 for fur-
ther details).
According to this proposal, children would start the acquisition process
with the NMP set to the value of languages like Chinese, hence accounting
for the cross-linguistic phenomenon of determiner omissions in child lan-
guage. In the case of children acquiring a Romance language like Spanish,
they will reset the NMP to the Romance value on the basis of the primary
linguistic input. Notice that this proposal accounts for children’s non-adult
production by acknowledging that it falls within the possibilities allowed by
UG, namely, the value of a parameter set to a different value than the target
language. This proposal has received cross-linguistic support by researchers
Emergence of DP 161

such as Snape (2008) for the L2 acquisition of English by Japanese and


Spanish speakers; Guasti, de Lange, Gavarró, and Caprin (2008) for the
acquisition of Catalan, Dutch, and Italian, among others. I will continue
to explore the validity of this proposal for the acquisition of Spanish in
Section 5.2.1
We turn our attention to the analysis of Monosyllabic Place Holders
(Bottari et al. 1993/1994), vocalic elements that appear in the position a
determiner would appear in adult language. Although Monosyllabic Place
Holders (MPHs) have been attested cross-linguistically in acquisition research,
their status in child grammar is controversial (e.g., Bottari et al. 1993/1994,
Pizutto & Caselli (1992) for Italian; Aguirre 1995, Hernández Pina 1984;
López Ornat 2003 for Spanish; Lleó 2001 for German and Spanish). On
the one side, some researchers interpret MPHs as pre-grammatical (e.g.,
Hernández Pina 1984; López Ornat 2003), unanalyzed amalgams with no
content or merely as filler syllables (Peters & Menn 1993; Peters 2001). On
the other hand, some researchers interpret these elements as grammatical
but lacking the full phonological specification (Lleó 1997, 2001; Pizutto &
Caselli 1992).
The analysis of the production of the three children under study yielded
a total of 102 utterances containing an MPH with a noun, out of which 87
(85 percent) were target-like and 15 (15 percent) were non-target-like with
respect to agreement, as shown in Table 5.6.
Targetness in Table 5.6 was determined on the basis of the following
assumptions. First, vowel a can be a representation of the feminine deter-
miners la ‘the’ or una ‘a’ and, as such, these pre-determiners contain some
of the same features as the full determiner forms. Second, vowels e and o/os
can function as phonetically shortened forms of the masculine determiners
el ‘the’ (masculine singular) and los ‘the’ (masculine plural). Under the
previous assumptions, a target-like utterance is defined as one in which the
assumed number and gender features contained in the MPH match those
of the accompanying nominal. As illustrated in Table 5.6, the three chil-
dren under study produced a majority (84 percent) of target-like MPHs in
terms of gender and number agreement.

Table 5.6 Overall distribution of MPHs


Target-like/Non-target-like Elián Alonso Londa Total

Target-like (%) 35 (92) 40 (77) 12 (100) 87 (84)


Non-target-like (%) 3 (8) 12 (23) 0 (0) 15 (16)
Total (%) 38 (100) 52 (100) 12 (100) 102 (100)
162 First Language Acquisition in Spanish

In terms of acquisition theory, these results could be interpreted as sup-


port for a continuous approach to language acquisition, stating that chil-
dren’s grammar is qualitatively the same as the adult grammar. Specifically,
children’s target-like production brings support for the availability of an
underlying checking mechanism. In contrast, usage-based approaches may
argue that children’s target-like production is just a reflection of what they
have encountered in the primary linguistic data. In particular, children
have extracted from the input the strong regularities present in the Spanish
language with respect to gender assignment, that is, word marker –o for
masculine nominals such as gato ‘cat,’ and word marker –a for feminine
nominals such as mesa ‘table.’ Notice that if this hypothesis is on the right
track, children’s production should reflect a higher rate of target-like utter-
ances with these canonically marked nominals than with the non-canoni-
cally marked nominals, for example, nominals ending in the vowel –e or a
consonant. In order to test this prediction a more detailed analysis of the
33 MPH tokens (once repetitions were eliminated) was conducted. First,
nominals produced by the three children were classified as feminine or
masculine, and then they were divided according to their endings, that is,
canonically marked for gender –o, –os, –a, –as, versus non-canonically
marked, that is, ending in the vowel –e or a consonant. These nominal end-
ings then were compared with the choice of MPH made by the children in
the production of MPH/DPs in order to assess whether children were more
likely to choose MPH e with nouns ending in –o, such as e caballo ‘the horse,’
than with nouns ending in a consonant, for example, e avión ‘the airplane.’
Table 5.7 shows the results of the analysis.

Table 5.7 Overall MPH/DP tokens


Nominal endings Total

Masculine Feminine

Singular Plural Singular Plural


a
–o –oth –os –oth –a –oth –as –oth

Elián Target-like 3 4 – – 2 2 – – 11
Non-target-like – – – – – – – 1 1
Londa Target-like – 2 – – 2 1 – – 5
Non-target-like – – – – – – – – –
Alonso Target-like 3 3 1 1 2 1 – – 11
Non-target-like 2 1 – 2 – – – – 5
Total 8 10 1 3 6 4 – 1 33
a
–oth includes the unmarked nominal endings, that is, –e and consonants.
Emergence of DP 163

Specifically, Table 5.7 illustrates the distribution of target-like utterances


with respect to nominal endings, for example, canonical endings in –o
and –a for masculine and feminine nominals respectively, and non-canonical
endings, vowel –e and a consonant. Recall targetness in Table 5.7 is defined
as the use of the MPHs e and –os with masculine nominals and the MPHs –a
and –as with feminine nominals. Overall, Table 5.7 shows that children pro-
duced more target-like MPHs than non target-like, with 27 (82 percent) out
of a total of 33 MPH tokens produced being target-like. Furthermore, the
analysis points to the fact that nominal ending has no effect on the produc-
tion of target-like agreement. In particular, the majority of nouns produced
with MPH e involved nominals not overtly marked for gender (i.e., 9 out of
a total of 15), while the distribution of MPH a was equally divided between
nouns canonically marked for gender (7) and non-canonically marked
ones (8). These results do not support the hypothesis that children are
establishing agreement patterns between the nominals and the MPHs on
the basis of their distributional regularity or a phonological matching strat-
egy. Nonetheless these results shed light on the nature of these MPHs
in Spanish early grammars, that is, they function in the grammar of these
children as determiners with their feature specifications and not as pre-
grammatical elements. This result brings support to cross-linguistic research
that claims these vocalic elements are indeed shortened versions of full
determiners (Lleó 1998, 2001; Guasti et al. 2008; Pizutto & Caselli 1992).
Finally, the analysis of these MPH/DPs revealed that acquisition of nominal
agreement in Spanish child language starts at an even earlier stage than
reported in the Spanish acquisition literature reviewed, that is, before the
attested two-word stage (e.g., Hernández Pina 1984; López Ornat 1997,
2003). Notice that two of the children under study are below Mean Length
Utterance in words of 2.0, Elián (MLUw = 1.5) and Alonso (MLUw = 1.9).
Support for this result is found in the study conducted by Guasti et al.
(2008) in which the researchers concluded that children acquiring Romance
languages such as Catalan and Italian, start the process before they have
acquired the full form of the determiner system, that is, with these vocalic
elements. The target-like production of MPH/DPs in initial Spanish gram-
mar may also explain why when children start producing (full) DPs they do
so in a target-like fashion, that is, they have already started to map abstract
features of the nominals to the corresponding categories within the MPH/
DP structure.
Now we turn the focus of the discussion to the examination of the (full)
DPs found in the data. The data analysis found a total of 94 (full) DPs pro-
duced by the children under study, as shown in Table 5.8.
164 First Language Acquisition in Spanish

Table 5.8 Distribution of (full) DPs


Target-like/Non-target-like Elián Alonso Londa Total

Target-like (%) 6 (75) 24 (80) 53 (95) 83 (89)


Non-target-like (%) 2 (25) 6 (20) 3 (5) 11 (11)
Total (%) 8 (100) 30 (100) 56 (100) 94 (100)

Table 5.8 shows that the children under study produced a majority of
target-like (full) DP utterances with respect to agreement for a total of 89
percent, as discussed in Chapters 3 and 4. These findings bring support to
previous studies claiming that when children acquiring Spanish produce
DPs they do so in a target-like manner (e.g., Aguirre 1995; Schnell de Acedo
1994; Snyder 1995). Moreover, the analysis of the non-target-like utterances
revealed that the majority of non-target-like (full) DP utterances pertained
to a number mismatch involving either the production of a singular DP to
refer to a plural referent, for example, uno dente ‘one/a tooth’ instead
of unos dientes ‘some teeth;’ or marking the plural feature in only one of the
constituents involved in the agreement relation, for example, lo duce ‘the
(pl) candy (sg).’ As discussed in Chapter 4, this second type of non-target-
like production may be a reflection of the phonological factors present in
the linguistic context of the children, namely the aspiration final –s.3 These
results are consistent with those obtained in the analysis of both MPH/DPs
and Bare Nominals, that is, non-target-like production pertained to the
number feature.
Regarding the nature of the initial grammar, the production of (full) DPs
in an almost all target-like fashion, brings support to a continuous approach
to language acquisition, that is, the availability of a checking mechanism in
children’s grammars from the initial stages of acquisition. Furthermore, as
in the case of MPH/DPs, the analysis found that children establish target-like
gender agreement in (full) DP structures regardless of nominal endings.
Specifically, out of a total of 62 (full) DP tokens (once repetitions were
eliminated) produced, 35 involved nominals not overtly marked for gender
(i.e., nouns ending in the vowel –e or a consonant) and all but one were
target-like in terms of gender agreement. This points to the fact that the
three children under study were as likely to create target-like gender agree-
ment with overtly (gender) marked nominals as well as with non-overtly
marked nominals (χ2 = 1.03, p = 0.31). These findings provide additional
evidence in support of the hypothesis that children are not simply match-
ing nominal endings but they are checking the abstract agreement features
of the nominals and their agreeing determiners and modifiers.
Emergence of DP 165

In contrast, usage-based approaches would have to say that children have


learned these particular pairings of Determiner-Noun (Det-N), but they
have not acquired yet the category of determiners itself, because they are
omitting them consistently, as discussed earlier. Moreover, it is not clear
how these children will move from the initial (learned) list of Det-N pair-
ings to the final projection of the determiner category. Finally, this approach
predicted that children would perform better in establishing agreement
relations with nominals canonically marked for gender, given their abun-
dance and pattern regularity in the input. This prediction is not supported
by the (full) DP data.
In sum, the discussion of the emergence of DPs in the grammar of the
three children under study points to the fact that the acquisition of DP
is best explained by a continuous approach to language acquisition. In
particular, children’s production (target and non-target-like) falls within
the hypothesis space provided by UG in that it does not violate any of its
principles. I assume that the children under study project a DP and an
intermediate Agreement projection where nominal features are checked,
as illustrated in Example 5.6.

Example 5.6
[DP la [AGRP AGR [FP bonita F [NP casa]]]]
‘the (fem/sg) pretty (fem/sg) house (fem/sg)’

Recall from Chapter 1, I argued for a weaker version of the Lexicalist


Hypothesis (Chomsky 1995), stating that only nominals have inherent fea-
tures in the lexicon (Koehn 1994). In this fashion, both determiners and
adjectives would inherit the nominal features from the nominal head in the
checking process. Following Cinque (1994), I assume that attributive adjec-
tives, such as bonita ‘pretty’ in Example 5.6, are generated as specifiers of a
functional projection FP. The nature of the FP in child language is not
clear. Several proposals have been put forth in the literature arguing for the
projection of an intermediate Number Phrase (Bernstein 1993; Ritter 1991,
1993, among others); however, it is not obvious that these children are pro-
jecting a Number Phrase. What is clear is that there is a checking process
carried out by their grammar given their significantly higher target-like
production.
Table 5.9 provides an overview of the three children’s production across
the structures discussed in this chapter: BNPs, MPH/DPs and (full) DPs.
Several generalizations can be drawn about the developmental stages of
the children under study from an analysis of the production distribution
displayed in Table 5.9. First, Table 5.9 shows that half of Elián’s and Alonso’s
166 First Language Acquisition in Spanish

Table 5.9 Determiner production and omission in obligatory contexts


Elián Alonso Londa Total
MLUw= 1.5 MLUw= 1.9 MLUw= 2.2 (%)

Determiner omissions (BNPs) 23 (33%) 32 (28%) 85 (55%) 140 (42)


MPH/DPs 38 (55%) 52 (46%) 12 (8%) 102 (30)
(Full) Determiner noun phrases 8 (12%) 30 (26%) 56 (37%) 94 (28)
Total 69 (100%) 114 (100%) 153 (100%) 336 (100)

production consisted of MPH/DPs. This finding points to the fact these


children are working on the nominal agreement system at an early stage of
acquisition process, that is, at MLUw levels below 2. A second generalization
that can be made is that even though Elián´s production was limited in
comparison to the other two children in the study, it was mostly target-like.
This finding supports Borer and Rohrbacher’s (1997) avoidance hypothesis,
or the more recent proposal by Snyder (2007), the grammatical conservatism
hypothesis. These two hypotheses share the idea that children are conserva-
tive learners in the sense that they avoid producing structures they have not
acquired yet, for example, the production of infinitival verbal forms instead
of the adult-like inflected forms. As a result, their production is character-
ized by errors of omission and not commission. This seems to be the case of
Elián’s limited but mostly target-like production. The third generalization
regarding the production distribution on Table 5.9 refers to Alonso’s over-
all production. The production of this child reveals an almost even split
between the production of (full) DPs and the BNPs, that is, the omission of
obligatory determiners, with the proportions of 26 percent and 28 percent
respectively. This even distribution seems to point to a developmental stage
in this child’s grammar in which these two structures are in competition;
I address this issue in the Section 5.2. Nonetheless, the analysis of his (full)
DP production shows a predominantly target-like production of DPs in
terms of agreement, that is, Alonso produced a total of 19 DP tokens out
of which 4 were non-target-like and all related to the marking of plural
morphology, as discussed in Chapter 4. As we can see, Alonso’s production
is similar to Elián’s production in that both children seem to be avoiding
the commission of non-target-like utterances, specifically, Alonso produced
BNPs instead of the adult-like (full) DPs.
The fourth generalization drawn from the analysis of the overall pro-
duction in Table 5.9 refers to Londa’s developmental stage. In particular,
her production distribution clearly points to the fact that she is at a more
Emergence of DP 167

advanced developmental stage than the other two children under study.
Evidence for this conclusion is found in her limited production of MPH/
DPs (8 percent) and her higher production of (full) DPs. Nonetheless,
Londa has the highest rate of BNPs, or determiner omissions in obligatory
contexts. Notice that Londa’s overall production seems contradictory at
first sight. On the one hand, her production seems to indicate that she is in
the process of mastering nominal agreement with an almost all target-like
production of (full) DPs and a variety of determiners used. On the other
hand, her high rate of determiner omissions is at odds with her overall lin-
guistic development. This issue is addressed in Section 5.2.
Note that usage-based approaches will have difficulties explaining the
production distribution in Table 5.9. On the one hand, children are pro-
ducing target-like utterances, but on the other hand, there is a high rate of
omissions. Moreover, a quick review of the data shows that children’s pro-
duction of one nominal can alternate among the three possibilities shown
in Table 5.9, that is, BNP, MPH/DP and (full) DP. Example 5.7 illustrates
Alonso’s production alternation of the nominal caballo.

Example 5.7
(a) el caballo ‘the horse’
(b) e caballo ‘the (MPH) horse’
(c) *caballo ‘horse’
(d) *a caballo ‘a (MPH) horse’

It would be very difficult to account for the variability displayed in Example


5.7 within the usage-based approach. That is, on the one side children seem
to be matching the input in Examples 5.7(a) and 5.7(b); on the other side,
Examples 5.7(c) and 5.7(d) are not found in the input. One possibility is to
interpret this variability as evidence of different underlying representations,
as proposed by López Ornat (2003). In this analysis, children would project
four different structures for the same semantic concept of /the horse/.
As pointed out by Montrul (2004) this isomorphic analysis assumes that
production is a mirror of the underlying representation and as a result
creates problems in terms of learnability. It is not clear how a child who is
projecting endless representations for the same concept (given the variabil-
ity present in children’s utterances) would be able to converge into the
target grammar.
In the next section I discuss the evidence in support of the availability
of default values for the gender and number features in the context of
children’s non-adult production.
168 First Language Acquisition in Spanish

5.2 Initial Values for Gender and Number

The generative framework perceives the language learner as starting the


acquisition process equipped with a set of invariable principles or UG.
In this framework, language acquisition then encompasses the process of
setting a series of parameters, or more recently in Minimalist Program
(Chomsky 1995), as the acquisition of values (strength) of a set of morpho-
logical features based on limited linguistic input. Crucially, the notion of a
finite set of features limits the possible set of grammars the learner can
generate; however, it is not enough to account for language learnability;
that is, the learner has to know that Spanish has strong agreement features,
but must also decide which value to assign to gender: masculine or femi-
nine. This query has led to the formulation of multiple hypotheses in the
literature to account for the problem of language acquisition. Of interest
here is the Theory of Markedness. Chomsky (1981) defines markedness as
the initial set of hypotheses available to the language learner. This theory
states that a child acquiring a Romance language, such as Spanish, is
equipped by UG with the nominal agreement features, but she has to learn
(among other things) that these features are marked overtly morphologi-
cally and are strong in Spanish (Brugè 2002, Cinque 1994; among many)
and as a result, need to be checked before Spell-Out. Furthermore, children
acquiring Spanish have to choose between the two possible values of the
features gender and number because in this language nominals (and their
modifiers and determiners) need to agree in gender and number, for
example, el libro ‘the (masc/sg) book (masc/sg).’
Fodor (1998) explains that default values provide the learner with a syn-
tactic mechanism that allows her to partially parse the input she receives
and also to deal with the ambiguity characteristic of natural language. Then
it is in the learner’s consistent selection of one set of values (e.g., mascu-
line/singular) over another that we find evidence of the availability of
unmarked or default values in child language. Children acquiring gender
agreement in Spanish are “forced” to assign a gender value to nominals
and the agreeing constituents in order to speak, *libr– versus el libro ‘book
(masc/sg).’ This is due to the fact that it is not possible in Spanish to pro-
duce a nominal and its agreeing constituents without marking their gender.
I have defined in Chapter 3 default in the case of the gender feature, as the
most frequent or least marked value in the Spanish language, namely, the
masculine value (Harris 1991; Trask 1993). Moreover, I have proposed that
the application of the masculine default value by the children under study
should be analyzed as an acquisition strategy for the derivation to converge.
Emergence of DP 169

In particular, children insert the masculine value as a last resort operation


when they cannot access the adult-like morphological specifications. Cru-
cially, the insertion of this value does not constitute a non-target-like utter-
ance in child language (Phillips 1996). Notice that this strategy is also
available in the target language but rarely applied, for example, neologisms.
The masculine value is assigned to new words introduced in the Spanish
language when their morphology does not favor the assignment of a par-
ticular gender, as in the case of words like estrés ‘stress.’ This particular word
has a final –s, therefore it can belong to either gender. However, the default
masculine value has been assigned to it, for example, el estrés. In the case of
children acquiring gender agreement, it is expected for them to have more
issues regarding gender assignment as they have not acquired yet all the
different morphological representations of this particular feature and their
exceptions.
This hypothesis predicts that when children produce non-target-like
utterances in terms of gender, they should consistently select the masculine
value of this feature. This hypothesis is borne out by the distribution of the
three children’s non-target-like gender production, as seen in Table 5.10.
This table illustrates the type of non-target-like tokens found in the data.
In particular, out of a total of 43 non-target-like gender utterances, 31
involved the production of masculine marked constituents to refer to a
feminine nominal; this difference was found to be statistically significant
(χ2 = 8.40, p = 0.003). The remaining non-target-like utterances were dis-
tributed as follows: eight pertained to the production of feminine marked
constituents to refer to masculine nominals, and four to the production of
a neuter demonstrative to refer to specific masculine nominals. The overall

Table 5.10 Non-target-like gender distribution


Structures Masculine (default) Femininea Neuterb Total

(Full) DPs – 1 – 1
MPH/DPs – (4)c – (4)
Attributive adjectives – – – –
Predicative adjectives 10 – – 10
Demonstrative pronouns 13 2 4 19
Third person clitics 8 1 – 9
Total 31 8 4 43
a
Feminine refers to the use of feminine marked constituents to refer to masculine nominals.
b
Neuter refer to the use of the neuter demonstrative pronoun to refer to masculine nominals.
c
These 4 tokens are between parenthesis to mark that they were not considered gender mismatches as such
but place holders void of any feature content.
170 First Language Acquisition in Spanish

distribution of non-target-like utterances provides strong evidence for the


existence of a masculine default value; that is, the significant majority of
non-target-like gender utterances involved the production of masculine
marked constituents to refer to feminine nominals.
Specifically, I found evidence of a masculine default value in the produc-
tion of demonstrative pronouns, third person clitic pronouns, and predica-
tive adjectives. In the case of demonstrative pronouns, the analysis found
that children produced masculine marked pronominals to refer to both
masculine and feminine nouns. Notice that this was one of the most com-
mon types of gender mismatches found in the data, accounting for 30 per-
cent (13 instances) of the overall non-target-like utterances. In addition,
the demonstrative pronoun offers a three-way gender contrast, that is, mas-
culine-feminine-neuter. Interestingly, the three children produced approx-
imately the same number of neuter pronominals tokens (52) as masculine
ones (59). I should point out that neuter demonstratives can be used to
refer to both feminine and masculine nominals, and that the intention of
the speaker determines their use, for example, the contrast between me
gusta eso ‘I like that (neuter)(stuff)’ versus me gustan esos/esas ‘I like those
(masc/fem) (ones).’ Furthermore, since there are no neuter nominals in
Spanish, when these pronouns enter into an agreement relation with other
constituents, the constituents take the masculine gender mark. The avail-
ability of neuter demonstratives in the Spanish grammar provides children
with the possibility of establishing agreement relations using constituents
marked with the default value, namely the masculine one. However, this
remains an empirical question since it was not possible to determine chil-
dren’s intended meaning behind their production of neuter demonstra-
tives. Nonetheless, each of the three children produced at least one clear
non-target-like example of a neuter demonstrative, and all involved the
production of the neuter demonstratives to refer to a specific object, for
example, Alonso: *Soh Wili for *Eso es Wili ‘That (neuter) (stuff) is Wili.’
In this example, Alonso uttered the neuter demonstrative to refer to a spe-
cific object instead of the masculine one ese ‘this (masc/sg) (one).’ This
might be an indication of the overuse of these pronominals by the children,
perhaps hidden by the possibility of using them with both masculine and
feminine nominals. In addition, I should point out that when new objects
were introduced in the experimental setting, the children used the neuter
demonstratives to ask the experimenter what the toys were, for example,
Alonso: ¿Quéeso? for ¿Qué es eso? ‘What is that (neuter) (stuff)?’ This could
be interpreted as evidence that these neuter pronouns are underspecified
in the lexicon, as Farkas (1990) proposes for neuter nouns in Romanian.
Emergence of DP 171

Then, when these demonstratives enter into an agreement relation, they


take the gender default value, namely, the masculine.
Further evidence for the existence of a masculine default value in
Spanish early grammar is found in the children’s production of third per-
son (direct object) clitic pronominals; that is, eight out of a total of nine
non-target-like clitics produced by Alonso and Londa involved the produc-
tion of the masculine clitic lo ‘it (masc/sg)’ to refer to feminine nominals,
for example, Londa: *A abilo ‘to open (inf) it (masc/sg)’ instead of [vamos]
a abrirla ‘[We are going)] to open (inf) it (fem/sg)’ to refer to the feminine
nominal casa ‘house (fem/sg).’ Notice that Londa marked the feminine
gender of this particular nominal in a target-like fashion in a different
instance una sita for una casita ‘a/one (fem/sg) house (dim/fem/sg),’ per-
haps pointing to the fact that the child had difficulties with the clitic pro-
noun and resorted to the use of the masculine default value. Interestingly,
Caselli et al. (1993) found in their comprehension study that the most
problematic grammatical morpheme for Italian children between the ages
of 2;6 to 3;0 was the clitics, with the following mean percentages on correct
comprehension: 63 for the singular and 63 for the plural ones. Moreover,
the authors found that the children in this age group were also more likely
to refuse to respond to clitics than to other types of items. Notice that even
the oldest group in their study, ranging in age between 4;6 and 5;0, did not
achieve full comprehension of clitics, with percentages of 76 for singular and
75 for plural. The findings of Caselli et al. support our conclusion that clitic
pronouns pose difficulties in the acquisition process perhaps due to their
pronominal nature for which the referent is not clear for early grammars.
In addition, the predicative adjective data provide support for the avail-
ability of a masculine default value. In particular, out of the ten non-target-
like (gender) predicative adjective utterances produced by Alonso and
Londa, ten involved the production of masculine marked adjectives to
modify feminine nominals, for example, Alonso: *Ta sucio ‘(it) is dirty
(masc/sg)’ to refer to bola ‘ball (fem/sg);’ Londa: *Tá cerrado ‘(it) is closed
(masc/sg)’ to refer to boca ‘mouth (fem/sg).’ Notice that both children
have marked the feminine feature of these nominals in a target-like fashion
in other instances: Alonso: a bola ‘the (fem/sg) ball (fem/sg)’ and Londa:
cerrada ‘closed (fem/sg)’ to refer to boca.
The previous discussion focused on what was found in the production
data of the three children under study in terms of the availability of a
gender default value, namely, the use of the masculine gender as default.
However, for language acquisition research, it is equally important to dis-
cuss what was not found in the data: in this particular case, the use of the
172 First Language Acquisition in Spanish

feminine gender to refer to masculine nouns. As I mentioned earlier, eight


instances of possible non-target-like uses of the feminine gender were
found, out of which only four are clear cases of a gender mismatch.4 One of
the examples was produced by Elián and pertained to the production of the
feminine determiner la ‘the’ with the masculine (unmarked) nominal
yuguete for juguete ‘toy.’ Another example involved the production of the
feminine/singular clitic la ‘it’ to refer to a masculine/plural referent bloques
‘blocks.’ The other two cases of non-target-like feminine tokens involved
the marking of natural gender. In particular, Londa assigned family roles to
the horses during the experiment and then referred to the horse that was
“the dad” with the feminine demonstrative, for example, esa[h] papá ‘that
(one) (fem/sg) is dad (masc/sg).’ In the second example, the child pointed
at the horse while uttering the feminine demonstrative esta ‘this (fem/sg)
(one).’ These two examples support my claim that the acquisition of gram-
matical features, in this case gender, takes precedence over the acquisition
of semantic features, that is, natural gender (see Chapter 3 for details).
If the present analysis is on the right track, then these children’s non-
target-like gender production seems to be mostly limited to the use of the
masculine gender to refer to feminine nominals, which provides further
support for the masculine gender as the default value.
We turn the discussion now to the availability of a default value for the
number feature. The data analysis shows consistent evidence in support of
the hypothesis that in Spanish early grammars the unmarked number value
is expressed morphologically with the zero singular mark. Specifically, with
regard to Determiner Phrases, children produced singular-marked (full)
DPs to refer to plural referents, for example, Elián: *coye la bola ‘take the
(fem/sg) ball (fem/sg)’ to refer to many balls. Similarly, the children
uttered singular MPH/DPs to refer to more than one object, for example,
Alonso: *e caballo ‘the (masc/sg) horse (masc/sg)’ to refer to two horses.
Further evidence in support of the singular form as the unmarked value in
Spanish child language is found in the production of attributive adjectives.
In particular, all the (number) non-target-like attributive adjectives uttered
by Londa involved the production of singular adjectives to refer to plural
referents, for example, Londa: *Feli[h] ‘Happy (un/sg)’ to refer to a couple
of trains.
Additional support for the hypothesis of singular as the unmarked value is
found in the production of the other constituents under study: predicative
adjectives and third person clitics. In regard to predicative adjectives, all
of Londa’s non-target-like number utterances were productions of singular
phrases used to refer to plural referents, for example, Londa: *tá omido
Emergence of DP 173

‘[he/she] is asleep (masc/sg)’ instead of están dormidos ‘[they] are asleep


(masc/pl)’ to refer to a couple of horses. Finally, the data on third person
clitics also support the singular value as the unmarked one. In particular,
the three non-target-like tokens with respect to number involved the pro-
duction of singular clitics used to refer to plural referents, for example,
Elián: *la tiele ‘[she/he] has it (fem/sg)’ instead of las tienes ‘[you] have
them (fem/pl).’
In sum, the previous discussion brings strong support for the availability
of the singular zero mark as the default value in the grammar of the three
children under study. This was evidenced in almost all the constituents
under study (with the exception of demonstrative pronouns) in which the
children consistently uttered singular constituents to refer to both singular
and plural referents.
Notice that the hypothesis that singular is the unmarked value for the
number feature is highly descriptive at best and language specific. Moreover,
although it accounts for the production data in terms of number agreement,
it lacks explanatory adequacy, that is, how children acquiring Spanish would
eventually converge to the target language. In turn, the Nominal Mapping
Parameter (Chierchia 1998a, 1998b; Chierchia et al. 2000), a UG-based para-
meter, provides an explanation for children’s non-adult-like utterances and
also it serves to unify a number of phenomena attested in the production
of the three children under study, that is, production of unmarked plurals
and BNPs.
Recall from the discussion in the previous section that the Nominal Map-
ping Parameter (NMP ) pertains to the semantic interpretation of nominals.
In particular, nominals can be interpreted as arguments, as in languages
like Chinese; as predicates, as in Romance languages; and finally, as both,
the choice being lexically specified. Notice that the selection of one of these
parametric values has morphosyntactic consequences in terms of number
marking and determiner use, for example, the selection of the argument
interpretation would predict the production of Bare Nominals in the singu-
lar, as nouns are interpreted as kind denoting. Crucially, Chierchia et al.
(2000) argue that children may start with a parametric choice different
from the target language and in order to converge to the setting of their
linguistic community they will need to reset the NMP on the basis of expo-
sure to the primary linguistic data.
In regard to the acquisition of the number feature in Spanish, this param-
eter is not in conflict with the previous prediction that children will pro-
duce singular constituents to refer to plural referents. On the contrary, this
non-adult-like production is explained by the selection of one of the three
174 First Language Acquisition in Spanish

available UG parametric choices, namely, the [+ argument, –predicate].


The selection of this particular parametric choice predicts that children
would not mark plurality on nominals because they are interpreting them as
kind-denoting or mass-like, which in turn means they are not pluralizable.
Chierchia et al. argue that this is the default value of this parameter and
that convergence to a particular language will entail the resetting of the
parameter according to specifications of each particular language.
Thus far, the NMP has been able to account for the three children’s
production of the singular form to refer to plural referents by positing
the selection of a parametric choice different from the one present in the
target language. As a result, all the evidence in support of the singular form
as the default value for number, also applies for the NMP, although for dif-
ferent reasons. Let’s return to the analysis of the three children overall
production presented in the previous section in Table 5.9, repeated here as
Table 5.11.
Overall Table 5.11 shows that the three children under study produce
determiners in 58 percent of obligatory contexts (30 percent MPH/DP and
28 percent (full) DP production) but omit them in 42 percent of obligatory
contexts.
Table 5.11 also shows that Alonso was as likely to produce a (full) DP
(26 percent) as a BNP (28 percent). As mentioned in the previous section,
this distribution seems contradictory especially when Alonso’s production
of (full) DPs (and MPH/DPs) was mostly target-like. The assumption of the
availability of the NMP explains these otherwise contradictory findings as a
result of a parametric choice. In particular, Alonso’s overall production
point to the fact that he has set the parameter to the value of [+ argument,
+ predicate], characteristic of Germanic languages. This parametric choice
allows for the production of both BNPs and (full) DPs; therefore we expect
children to produce DPs as well as to omit them until they reset the param-
eter to the Romance value of [–argument, + predicate]. In this fashion, the

Table 5.11 Determiner production and omission in obligatory contexts

Elián Alonso Londa Total


MLUw= 1.5 MLUw= 1.9 MLUw= 2.2 (%)

Determiner omissions (BNPs) 23 (33%) 32 (28%) 85 (55%) 140 (42)


MPH/DPs 38 (55%) 52 (46%) 12 (8%) 102 (30)
(Full) determiner noun phrases 8 (12%) 30 (26%) 56 (37%) 94 (28)
Total 69 (100%) 114 (100%) 153 (100%) 336 (100)
Emergence of DP 175

NMP accounts for this intermediate stage of acquisition in which children’s


production fluctuate between target-like versus non-target-like with respect
to the production of obligatory determiners. Similarly, the NMP accounts
for Londa’s high production of BNPs (55 percent) along with (full) DPs
(45 percent). Crucially, Chierchia et al. argue that children acquiring a
Romance language need to recategorize nominals on a one per one basis
in order to reset the parameter to the target value. Londa’s production
seems to point to the difficulty of this task of recategorization of nominals
from predicates to arguments.
As we have seen, the examination of the production of the three children
under study points to the availability of initial default values for the features
gender and number. In the case of gender, the data analysis found strong
evidence for the masculine value as the default value in the grammar of the
three children under study, with the consistent insertion of this value as a
default in what I have proposed to be a last resort acquisition strategy for
the derivation to converge. In regard to number, the examination of the
data revealed that the singular form is the default form in these children’s
grammar but it is a reflection of a UG parametric choice on noun inter-
pretation; roughly, nominals are interpreted as mass-like. Finally, the adop-
tion of the NMP proposal also accounts for the consistent production of
unmarked plurals by the three children under study, that is, mass-like nomi-
nals are not pluralizable.
Chapter 6

Conclusions

The main goal of this monograph was to explore the nature of nominal
agreement in Spanish early grammars, that is, to examine the gender and
number agreement relations children establish (or fail to establish) in the
Determiner Phrase, within the framework of the Minimalist Program
(Chomsky 1995, 2001). At the heart of this exploration, is the controversy
about the initial state or the continuity versus the discontinuity approaches
to language acquisition, that is, whether there is evidence in support of
the availability of an underlying feature checking mechanism like the one
posited for the adult grammar (Continuity) or there is evidence that chil-
dren are just matching the input heard because they lack any a priori
linguistic specifications (Discontinuity). With these goals in mind, a set
of experimental tasks were administered to three monolingual, Spanish-
speaking children under the age of 3 (Elián, Alonso, and Londa) in San
Juan, Puerto Rico. Utterances involving a noun, a determiner or an adjec-
tive were included in the analysis. In addition, predicative adjectives and
demonstrative and clitic pronouns were also analyzed in the present study
to obtain a more complete picture of the agreement system in early gram-
mars. This inquiry yielded answers to some of the questions posed yet it
raised several questions for future research.
In regard to the nature of nominal agreement, the analysis of the produc-
tion of the three children under study produced three major generaliza-
tions: (1) Children’s production was mostly target-like in terms of agreement;
(2) Non-target-like production followed a principled selection pattern of
initial default values for the gender and number features; and (3) A delay
in the acquisition of number was attested in the data analysis. Regarding
the first generalization, the three children under study produced a signifi-
cantly higher number of target-like utterances (83 percent) with regard to
agreement (χ2 = 43.56, p < 0.0001) than non-target-like, despite the differ-
ences in Mean Length of Utterance in words among them: Elián, MLUw =
1.5; Alonso, MLUw = 1.9; and Londa, MLUw = 2.2. Notice that two of the
Conclusions 177

children, Elián and Alonso, are below the two-word stage in their produc-
tion, pointing to the fact that children acquiring Spanish are able to estab-
lish target-like agreement relations from the early stages of the acquisition
process. In particular, Table 6.1 illustrates that the three children’s overall
production was predominantly target-like across all the structures under
examination, with target-like percentages ranging from a high of 94 per-
cent for the production of attributive adjectives to a low of 73 percent for
the production of third person direct object clitics.
This finding confirms previous acquisition studies stating that the per-
centage of non-target-like production of children acquiring Spanish is lim-
ited (e.g., Aguirre 1995, Schnell de Acedo 1994, Snyder 1995, 2007 for
Spanish; Pizzuto & Caselli 1992 for Italian).
Furthermore, children’s overall target-like production seems to indicate
the availability of a feature-checking mechanism in Spanish early gram-
mars. Support for this conclusion is found in the results of a detailed analy-
sis on the agreement patterns children established with respect to nominal
word markers. Specifically, the data analysis showed that children were able
to establish target-like agreement relations with nominals canonically
marked for gender (i.e., masculine nominals ending in –o and feminine
nominals ending in –a), as well as with nominals non-canonically marked
for gender (e.g., nominals ending in the vowel –e or a consonant).1 These
findings bring support to the Weak Continuity Hypothesis (Crain & Pietrosky
2002; Crain & Thornton 1998, Pinker 1984, among others), indicating the
availability of a feature-checking mechanism in initial grammars, that is, the
children under study are not merely matching the input but they are check-
ing features as hypothesized for the adult grammar. For the present mono-
graph, I adopted Cinque’s (1994) and Brugè’s (2002) N-raising analyses for

Table 6.1 Agreement findings summary


Structure Target-like Non-Target-likea Total

(Full) DPs 54 (87%) 8 (13%) 62 (100%)


MPH/DPs 26 (79%) 7 (21%) 33 (100%)
Attributive adjectives 17 (94%) 1 (6%) 18 (100%)
Predicative adjectives 53 (82%) 12 (18%) 65 (100%)
Demonstrative pronouns 99 (84%) 19 (16%) 118 (100%)
Third person clitics 27 (73%) 10 (27%) 37 (100%)
Total 276 (83%) 57 (17%) 333 (100%)
a
Non-target-like tokens include only utterances with gender and number grammatical agree-
ment mismatches.
178 First Language Acquisition in Spanish

Determiner Phrases and proposed that children, like adults, project inter-
mediate functional categories in which the strong nominal agreement
features are checked.
In contrast, these findings do not support a usage-based approach to
acquisition in which children will match the input they hear. In particular,
if children are expected to build categories by extracting regularities from
the input, then this approach predicts that they will be more successful
establishing target-like agreement relations with canonically marked nomi-
nals than with non-canonically marked nominals, given the regular pattern
these nominals exhibit with respect to agreement. This prediction was not
borne out by the data.
Further support for the availability of a checking mechanism in Spanish
early grammars is found in children’s production of MPH (Bottari et al.
1993/1994) DPs, that is, nominals with a vocalic element in the place a
determiner occupies in adult language. The examination of these vocalic
elements showed that they function as reduced forms of the (full) deter-
miners with which the children established target-like agreement relations,
especially in regard to gender. Notice that children were not matching
MPHs with nominal endings, as predicted in a usage-based approach, but
they established target-like agreement relations regardless of the nominal
ending, that is, canonical (ending in –o for masculine and –a for feminine)
versus non-canonically marked (ending in the vowel –e or consonant). This
finding sets the beginning of the acquisition of DP in Spanish at an earlier
stage than the one reported in the literature reviewed (Hernández Pina
1984; Schnell de Acedo 1991; Snyder 1995), as pointed out by Guasti et al.
2008 for the acquisition of Italian. Notice that studies by Hernández Pina
(1984) and López Ornat (1997, 2003) have analyzed these vocalic elements
as amalgams or unanalyzed segments void of any feature content. As a
result, they have not been considered as the starting point in the acquisi-
tion of Spanish nominal agreement.
Moreover, the production of MPHs at the beginning of the acquisition
process instead of (full) DP forms explains why once children start to pro-
duce (full) Determiners, they do it in a target-like fashion; that is, they have
already worked out the morphological agreement markings with the MPHs.
Finally, the production of MPH/DPs and their status as reduced versions of
the full determiners with feature content, brings support to the hypothesis
that children have an awareness of functional categories before they have
learned the full phonological inventory of Determiner forms.
In terms of the second generalization pertaining to the availability of ini-
tial default values for the gender and number features, the analysis revealed
Conclusions 179

that non-target-like utterances involved a systematic selection of a particu-


lar set of values for these features. In order to assess the availability of initial
default values in the production of the children under study, a detailed
examination of their non-target-like production was carried out. First,
regarding the gender feature, I proposed the availability of a gender default
value as an acquisition strategy, applied as a “last resort” by the children
under study for the derivation to converge. Recall that children acquiring
Spanish are “forced” to choose between the two values available for the
gender feature in order to produce the nominals and their agreeing con-
stituents (e.g., La casa ‘the (fem/sg) house (fem/sg)’ vs *cas–. In this fash-
ion, the insertion of the default gender value would take place when they
could not access the adult-like morphological specifications. This hypo-
thesis predicted that when children produce non-target-like utterances in
terms of gender, they would consistently select (or insert) the default value
of this feature in order for the derivation to converge. This hypothesis was
borne out by the data, as shown in Table 6.2. This table illustrates the types
of non-target-like tokens found in the data with respect to gender agree-
ment. In particular, out of a total of 43 non-target-like gender utterances,
31 (72 percent) involved the production of masculine marked constituents
to refer to a feminine nominal; this difference was found to be statistically
significant (χ2 = 8.40, p = 0.003). This result brings strong support to
the availability of a masculine default value in the grammar of the three
children under study. The remaining non-target-like utterances were dis-
tributed as follows: 8 (19 percent) pertained to mismatches between femi-
nine marked constituents produced to refer to masculine nominals, and 4
(9 percent) to the production of a neuter demonstrative to refer to specific

Table 6.2 Non-target-like gender distribution


Structures Masculine (default) Mismatch Neuter Total

(full) DPs – 1 – 1
MPH/DPs – (4)a – (4)
Attributive adjectives – – – –
Predicative adjectives 10 – – 10
Demonstrative pronouns 13 2 4 19
Third person clitics 8 1 – 9
Total 31 (72%) 8 (19%) 4 (9%) 43 (100%)
a
These four instances involved the production of the MPH a with masculine nominals. The analysis
found out that these did not constitute instances of gender mismatches but the production of a
true MPH, as proposed by Bottari et al. (1993/1994).
180 First Language Acquisition in Spanish

masculine nominals. In particular, out of the eight mismatches listed on


Table 6.2 only four were clear instances of feature mismatches. Interest-
ingly, two of the four examples involved the assignment of natural gender
to toy horses, hence the difficult task of matching morphological specifica-
tions to actual referents. Finally, the four non-target-like uses of the neuter
pronoun to refer to specific masculine nominals might be an attempt on
the part of the child to regularize the demonstrative paradigm from este/
estos ‘this/these’ to esto/estos. In sum, the overall distribution of the non-
target-like utterances with respect to gender provides strong evidence for
the existence of a masculine default value in the grammar of the three chil-
dren under study; that is, the significant majority of non-target-like gender
utterances involved the production of masculine marked constituents to
refer to feminine nominals.
In terms of the number feature, I explored the traditional hypothesis
of singular as the default value in Spanish grammar, together with the
Nominal Mapping Parameter (NMP) (Chierchia 1998a, 1998b), that is, UG-
based parameter on noun interpretation. A detailed examination of the
non-target-like utterances with respect to number agreement brought sup-
port for the availability of the singular surface “form” as the representation
of the initial value for this feature. Table 6.3 summarizes the children’s non-
target-like production related to number.
This table presents the two types of non-target-like number utterances
found in the production of the three children under study: (1) Grammatical
(e.g., agreement between a determiner and a noun) and (2) Semantic
agreement (e.g., agreement between the number feature encoded in a

Table 6.3 Summary of number non-target-like tokens


Structure Plural referents Non-target-like number production Total
a b
Grammatical Semantic

(full) DPs 21 7 8 15
MPH/DPs 9 3 5 8
Attributive adjectives 6 1 5 6
Predicative adjectives 6 2 4 6
Demonstratives 11 – – –
Third person clitics 5 1 2 3
Total 58 14 24 38
a
Grammatical non-target-like number refers to a mismatch of the number between the nominals and the
agreeing constituents.
b
Semantic non-target-like number refers to a mismatch between the number feature of the DP and the
number of objects it refers to.
Conclusions 181

particular DP and the number of objects it refers to). Overall, Table 6.3
shows that out of a total of 58 tokens required to be marked as plural,
only 20 (34 percent) were marked for plurality in a target-like fashion; the
remaining 38 (66 percent) tokens involved a number mismatch, semantic
or grammatical. This brings support for the availability of a default value for
the number feature that surfaces as the singular zero mark. In addition, the
present research explored the evidence in support of the availability of
the NMP at work in the grammar of the children under study. The examina-
tion of the non-target-like production with regard to the number feature
provides some support in favor of this parameter. In particular, the avail-
ability of this parameter accounts for children’s production of unmarked
plurals (i.e., singular nominals to refer to plural referents) across all the
structures under study, that is, children are interpreting nominals as
kind-denoting and therefore they cannot be pluralized. The production of
Bare Nominal Phrases by the three children under study brings additional
support for the availability of the NMP. Specifically, the three children
omitted obligatory determiners in 64 percent of the required contexts.
According to this parameter, determiner omissions are expected in the
acquisition process as children set this parameter to a value different than
the language of the linguistic community. In particular, the data analysis
provided evidence that the children under study had set the NMP to the
[+ argument, + predicate] value, as in languages like English in which Bare
Nominals and DPs are allowed, according to their lexical specifications.
As a result, the children were producing target-like DPs, along with Bare
Nominals.2 The availability of this parameter brings support to the Weak
Continuity Hypothesis by accounting for children’s non-adult production
as one of the options provided by UG, namely, the setting of a parameter to
a value different from the linguistic community. Crucially, according to this
analysis, children will converge to the target language once they reset the
parameter to the Romance value [– argument, + predicate] on the basis of
the primary linguistic input.
Notice that usage-based approaches to acquisition will have a difficult
time explaining children’s target-like production alongside with omission
of determiners in obligatory contexts. On the one side, one could state that
children have learned the Det-N pairings in the case of the target-like DP
production. On the other side, it would be difficult for this approach to
explain the variability found in the production data in which one particular
nominal could appear bare (e.g. *Caballo ‘Horse’), in a (full) DP (e.g.
Un caballo ‘A horse’ or in a MPH/DP E caballo ‘E horse.’ In contrast these
alternations are accounted for as options available in UG, or as Crain and
Pietroski (2002) explained it, children are speaking a different language.
182 First Language Acquisition in Spanish

Another issue explored in the present study related to the acquisition of


number was the cognitive aspect of number, that is, the comprehension of
one versus more than one. This issue was examined through the compre-
hension task “The Animal House,” by asking children to respond to requests
by giving one or more than one animal to the experimenter. Overall, the
three children had no problems responding to singular requests; that is, all
singular requests were answered by giving one object. This finding brings
support to the hypothesis that singular is the unmarked value for number.
In regard to plural requests, the two younger children, Elián and Alonso,
responded target-like to two out of a total of three plural requests made.
Their target-like responses in this task and their overall production seem to
indicate that they comprehend the difference between singular and plural.
In contrast, Londa responded to all plural requests by giving one object.
I argued that in this child’s grammar plurality has distributive interpretation
consisting of individual objects, for example (car 1, car 2, car 3,. . .) not a
collective one, namely, the summation of individual objects, for example, los
carros ‘the (masc/pl) cars (masc/pl).’ These results point to the fact that
comprehension is not one of the factors involved in the delay in the acquisi-
tion of the number feature.
The third generalization drawn from the present research involves the
timing of acquisition of the gender and number features; in particular, a
delay in the acquisition of number. In general, the data analysis revealed
that while children were establishing almost perfect gender agreement
relations within DPs, they were having problems with number agreement.
Support for this overall conclusion is found in the distribution of the 15
non-target-like (full) DP utterances produced by the three children: 1 per-
tained to the gender feature while 14 involved a grammatical or semantic
number agreement mismatch. Moreover, the children marked plurality in
a target-like fashion in only 6 (29 percent) of a total of 21 contexts in which
a plural DP was required. To assess whether the final –s aspiration, typical of
the Puerto Rican Spanish dialect the children under study are speaking,
had any detrimental effect in the analysis all utterances involving the con-
text for aspiration were eliminated. Nonetheless, about 50 percent of the
utterances with a plural referent were not marked overtly for number.
These results point to the fact that children are having problems marking
plurality independently of the phonological phenomenon of aspiration,
bringing support to Marrero and Aguirre’s (2003) claim that children
acquiring Spanish experience difficulties marking plural morphology.
Further support for a delay in the acquisition of number is found in the
MPH/DP data. The data analysis revealed that only one out of the nine
Conclusions 183

tokens with a plural referent was marked for plurality.3 In addition, the
examination of the attributive adjective production follows the same pat-
tern as the (full) DPs and MPH/DPs. In particular, there were no gender
mismatches; and six out of six non-target-like utterances involved a number
mismatch. Finally, the data on Bare Nominal Phrases (i.e., nominals pro-
duced in isolation) provide further support for a delay in the acquisition
of the number feature. Specifically, the review of the BNPs produced
showed that out of the 87 nominals that refer to a plural referent, only 21
(24 percent) were marked overtly as plural. This indicates that the contrast
in the acquisition of number and gender go beyond grammatical agree-
ment. These results bring support to previous research in Spanish that have
stated that gender is acquired before number (e.g., Hernández Pina 1984;
Marrero & Aguirre 2003; Schnell de Acedo 1994; Snyder 1995).
In the present study I have proposed that part of the reason for this delay
is semantic in nature, that is, the complex process of matching morphologi-
cal features on the DP with the features of the referent, for example, la casa
‘the house’ with “one house.” In order to assess this hypothesis a detailed
analysis of utterance referent was conducted and the results are illustrated
in Table 6.3 above. To my knowledge this is the first attempt to address the
semantic aspect of number acquisition in Spanish early grammars. Table 6.3
shows that the three children under study produced more semantic num-
ber mismatches (63 percent), that is, the use of a singular DP to refer to a
plural entity, than grammatical mismatches (37 percent), a mismatch of the
number feature within the DP. This difference was found significant (χ2 =
5.58, p = 0.018). These results provide strong support for the hypothesis
that the delay on the acquisition of the number feature has its basis on the
semantic or referential aspect of this feature. Furthermore, the adoption of
the NMP entails that children need to reset this parameter to the Romance
value, and in doing so, they have to recategorize nominals from arguments
to predicates on a one by one basis (Chierchia et al. 2000). This process
adds another layer to the complexity involved in the acquisition of number.
The present research inquiry has pointed out several areas of further
research. First, regarding gender, research is needed on the role of phono-
logical cues in gender assignment. For the present study, these cues did not
seem to play a significant role. This raises the question of at what point in
the acquisition process children are ready to make use of this information.
Notice that Pérez-Pereira (1991) found that children between the ages of
4 to 11 were using intralinguistic cues for gender assignment.
Second, further research is needed in the area of acquisition of adjectival
agreement. In particular, the present study had difficulty collecting enough
184 First Language Acquisition in Spanish

production data on attributive adjectives, due to the children’s limited pro-


duction of this structure, as pointed out by Mariscal (2008). In addition, the
cross-sectional experimental set up used in the present study limited the
number of opportunities to collect additional data on this particular struc-
ture. A longitudinal experimental study would be ideal in order to expand
the number of sessions per child. Moreover, future research should address
children’s structural interpretation of color adjective agreement question,
for example, ¿De qué color es la bola? ‘Of what color (masc/sg) is the (fem/
sg) ball (fem/sg).’ The present study seems to indicate that children have a
parsing preference in the interpretation of this ambiguous structure; spe-
cifically they seem to prefer to interpret this structure as one where the
masculine nominal “color” enters into an agreement relation with the color
adjective, for example, la bola es de color rojo ‘the (fem/sg) ball (fem/sg) is of
the (masc/sg) color (masc/sg) red (masc/sg)’ instead of the preferred
interpretation by adult grammar of la silla es roja ‘the (fem/sg) chair (fem/
sg) is red (fem/sg).’
Furthermore, future research should address the contrast found in the
acquisition of attributive adjectives versus predicative adjectives, while chil-
dren produced target-like agreement with respect to gender in the former,
they have more difficulties creating target-like gender agreement in the
latter.
Regarding the number feature, several issues are open for future research.
First, the present findings on number agreement should be replicated
using a non-aspirating Spanish dialect to discard phonological aspects as
confounding factors in the morphological overt marking of this feature.
Nonetheless a comparison with Marrero and Aguirre’s (2003) results
yielded comparable results in terms of children’s overt marking of the num-
ber feature.
In addition, the results of the experimental task on the interpretation of
mass versus count nominals were inconclusive, due to the fact that some
children did not produce both types of nominals in the experimental task.
This issue could be addressed by extending the length of the experimental
study to have more opportunities to repeat the task. Further research is
needed to address whether this contrast mass versus count is available in
children’s grammar. Recall that even the older children had some prob-
lems with the interpretation of mass nominals, pluralizing them as count.
Moreover, future research should address children’s interpretation of
plurality. Londa’s interpretation of plurality points to a distributive analysis
in which the elements of a group are analyzed individually not as a sum.
Future research should address the issue of plurality interpretation in child
Conclusions 185

language as collective (the sum of a group) versus distributive (individual


units of a group). Notice that in the distributive interpretation, members of
the group are taken individually and as a result, no pluralization is needed.
Another issue pertaining to number acquisition in Spanish refers to the
NMP (Chierchia 1998a, 1998b). Although evidence was found in support
of the availability of this parameter in Spanish child grammar, it is not
clear what would constitute the trigger for the resetting of the parameter
to the Romance value. In particular, Chierchia et al. (2000) have proposed
the acquisition of the plural indefinite unos/unas as the trigger. However,
Londa’s production shows that this child has acquired this particular deter-
miner but she has not yet converged into the target setting of the parameter.
Further research is needed to fine-tune the specific trigger or triggers for
convergence. One possibility is that the trigger is linked to the contrast
between specific and generic interpretation as expressed in the use of defi-
nite vs indefinite determiners in child language. The present study seems to
point to the acquisition of the definite determiners takes place before the
acquisition of the indefinite ones.
Finally, the contrast between the acquisition of grammatical versus
semantic features should be addressed in future studies. In particular,
future research should look at a comparison between the acquisition of
natural gender agreement (vs grammatical gender agreement) in tandem
with semantic number agreement (vs grammatical number agreement) to
see if they follow they same agreement patterns, as they both involve the
matching of morphological specifications with actual referents. The pres-
ent study seems to indicate that grammatical agreement precedes semantic
agreement.
Appendices

Appendix A: Determiner Phrase Tokens

Elián

(Child) (Target) (Referent)


1. *ía la yuguete mira el juguete [Unknown]
‘look the (fem/sg) toy ‘look the (masc/sg) toy
(un/masc/sg)’1 (un/masc/sg)’
2. e va ya uu se va la luz [Unknown]
‘(refl)goes the (fem/sg) ‘(refl)goes the (fem/sg)
light (un/fem/sg)’ light un/fem/sg)’
3. coyee la bola coge las bolas *[Two bolas]
‘take the (fem/sg) ball ‘take the (fem/pl) balls
(fem/sg)’ (fem/pl)’
4. *es ya flore[h] son las flores [Ambiguous]
‘(it) is the (fem/sg) ‘(they) are the (fem/pl)
flowers (un/fem/pl)’ flowers (un/fem/pl)’
4(a) la[h]chiore[h] las flores [flores]
‘the (fem/pl) flowers ‘the (fem/pl) flowers
(fem/pl)’ (fem/pl)’
5. ma[h], ota ve más, otra vez [N/A]
‘another (fem/sg) time ‘another (fem/sg) time
(un/fem/sg)’ (un/fem/sg)’

Alonso

(Child) (Target) (Referent)


1. el caballo el caballo [caballo]
‘the (masc/sg) horse ‘the (masc/sg) horse
(masc/sg)’ (masc/sg)’
1(a) el caballo los caballos *[caballos]
‘the (masc/sg) horse ‘the (masc/pl) horses
(masc/sg)’ (masc/pl)’
Appendices 187

(Child) (Target) (Referent)


2. el otro el otro [caballo]
‘the (masc/sg) other
(one) (masc/sg)’
3. el guaguá el guauguau [perro]
‘the (masc/sg) dog
(un/masc/sg)’
4. la comida la comida [Not present]
‘the (fem/sg) food
(fem/sg)’
5. la lu la luz [luz]
‘the (fem/sg) light
(un/fem/sg)’
6. un caballo un caballo [caballo]
‘a/one (masc/sg) horse
(masc/sg)’
7. un guauguau un guauguau [perro]
‘a/one (masc/sg) dog
(un/masc/sg)’
8. un nene un nene [muñeco]
‘a/one (masc/sg) kid
(un/masc/sg)’
9. un vión un avión [avión]
‘an/one (masc/sg)
airplane (un/masc/sg)’
10. un carro un carro [carro]
‘a/one (masc/sg) car
(masc/sg)’
11. ese guauguau ese guauguau [Ambiguous]
‘that (masc/sg) dog
(un/masc/sg)’
12. este caballo este caballo [caballo]
‘this (masc/sg) horse
(masc/sg)’
13. oto caballo otro caballo [caballo]
‘another (masc/sg) horse
(masc/sg)’
14. *lo[h] caballo los caballos [caballos]
‘the (masc/pl) horse ‘the (masc/pl)horse
(masc/sg)’ (masc/pl)’
188 First Language Acquisition in Spanish

(Child) (Target) (Referent)


14(a) lo[h] caballo[h], el caballo el caballo [caballo]
‘the (masc/pl) horses ‘the (masc/sg) horse
(masc/pl)’ (masc/sg)’
15. *lo carro los carros [carros]
‘the (masc/pl) car ‘the (masc/pl) cars
(masc/sg)’ (masc/pl)’
16. *lo juete los juguetes [juguetes]
‘the (masc/pl) toy ‘the (masc/pl) toys
(un/masc/sg)’ (un/masc/pl)’
17. lo pece los peces [Request]
‘the (masc/pl) fishes ‘the (masc/pl) fishes
(un/masc/pl)’ (un/masc/pl)’
18. lo pie[h] los pies [Two pies]
‘the (masc/pl) feet ‘the (masc(pl)
(un/masc/pl)’ feet(un/masc/pl)’
19. *oto pece otros peces [Request]
‘another (masc/sg) fishes ‘another (masc/pl) fishes
(un/masc/pl)’ (un/masc/pl)’

Londa

Masculine Determiner Phrases

(Child) (Target) (Referent)


1. uno guauguau un guauguau [perro]
‘a/one (masc/sg) dog
(un/masc/sg)’
2. uno mono un mono [mono]
‘a/one (masc/sg) monkey
(masc/sg)’
3. uno perro un perro [perro]
‘a/one (masc/sg) dog
(masc/sg)’
4. un allo un caballo [caballo]
‘a/one (masc/sg) horse
(masc/sg)’
5. uno avión un avión [avión]
‘an/one (masc/sg) airplane
(un/masc/sg)’
Appendices 189

(Child) (Target) (Referent)


6. uno ijo unos lagartijos *[serpientes]
‘a/one (masc/sg) lizard ‘some (masc/pl)
(masc/sg)’ lizards (masc/pl)’
7. un dente unos dientes *[dientes]
‘a/one (masc/sg) tooth ‘some (masc/pl) teeth
(un/masc/sg)’ (masc/pl)’
8. un carro unos carros *[Four carros]
‘a/one (masc/sg) car ‘some (masc/sg) cars
(masc/sg)’ (masc/sg)’
9. uno chuchu-tren un tren [tren]
‘a/one (masc/sg) choo choo
train (un/masc/sg)’
10. este allo este caballo [caballo]
‘this (masc/sg) horse
(masc/sg)’
11. este guauguau este guauguau [perro]
‘this (masc/sg) dog
(un/masc/sg)’
12. ese kerro ío ese perro mío [perro]
‘that (masc/sg) dog (masc/sg)
of mine (masc/sg)’
13. ese nene ese nene [muñeco]
‘that (masc/sg) boy
(un/masc/sg)’
14. el león el león [león]
‘the (masc/sg) lion
(un/masc/sg)’
15. el guauguau el guauguau [perro]
‘the (masc/sg) dog
(un/masc/sg)’
16. uno[h] dulce[h] unos dulces [bolas]
‘some (masc/pl) candies
(un/masc/pl)’
17. *uno ece unos peces [Three peces]
‘a (masc/sg) fishes ‘some (masc/pl)
(un/masc/pl)’ fishes(un/masc/pl)’
18. uno[h] carro[h] unos carros [Four carros]
‘some (masc/pl) cars
(masc/pl)’
190 First Language Acquisition in Spanish

(Child) (Target) (Referent)


19. *lo duce los dulces [bolas]
‘the (masc/pl) candy ‘the (masc/pl)
(un/masc/sg)’ candies(un/masc/pl)’

Feminine Determiner Phrases

(Child) (Target) (Referent)


1. una Balbie una Barbie [muñeca]
‘a/one (fem/sg) Barbie
(un/fem/sg)’
2. una tenza una trenza [trenza]
‘a/one (fem/sg) braid
(fem/sg)’
3. una sita una casita [casa]
‘a/one (fem/sg) (small)
house (fem/sg)’
4. una flor unas flores *[Four flores]
‘a/one (fem/sg) flower ‘some (fem/pl) flowers
(un/fem/sg)’ (fem/pl)’
5. una cheche una botella de leche [botella]
‘a/one (fem/sg) milk ‘a (fem/sg) bottle
(un/fem/sg)’ (fem/sg) of milk’
6. una bebé una bebé [muñeca]
‘a/one (fem/sg) baby (girl)
(un/fem/sg)’
7. una eta una paleta [paleta]
‘a/one (fem/sg) lollypop
(fem/sg)’
8. una ola una cola [cola]
‘a/one (fem/sg) tail
(fem/sg)’
9. una aita unas alitas *[alas]
‘a/one (fem/sg) (small) ‘some (fem/pl) wings
wing (fem/sg)’ (fem/pl)’
10. una tita una canastita [canasta]
‘a/one (fem/sg) (little)
basket (fem/sg)’
Appendices 191

(Child) (Target) (Referent)


11. una nena una nena [muñeco]
‘a/one (fem/sg) girl (fem/sg)’
12. la lu[h] la luz [luz]
‘the (fem/sg) light
(un/fem/sg)’
13. mira él, pielna mira las piernas de él/ sus *[patas]
piernas
‘look (at) the(masc/sg)/ ‘look (at) the legs of
him, leg’ him/ his legs’
14. esa ida esa comida [comida]
‘that (fem/sg) food (fem/sg)’
15. esa lu esa luz [luz]
‘that (fem/sg) light
(un/fem/sg)’
16. oa ve[h] otra vez [N/A]
‘another (fem/sg) time
(un/fem/sg)’
17. una[h] llave[h] unas llaves [Two llaves]
‘some (fem/pl) keys
(un/fem/pl)’
18. esa[h] llave[h] esas llaves [Two llaves]
‘those (fem/pl) keys
(un/fem/pl)’
19. la[h] flole las flores [Four flores]
‘the (fem/pl) flowers
(un/fem/pl)’

Appendix B: Monosyllabic Place Holder DP Tokens

Elián

(Child) (Target) (Referent)


1. e bebó el bebé (mono)
‘the (masc/sg) baby (masc/sg)’
2. e fono el teléfono (teléfono)
‘the (masc/sg) telephone
(masc/sg)’
192 First Language Acquisition in Spanish

(Child) (Target) (Referent)


3. e pelo el pelo [pelo]
‘the (masc/sg) hair (masc/sg)’
4. e bebé el bebé [mono]
‘the (masc/sg) baby
(un/masc/sg)’
5. e brum-brum el carro [carro]
‘the (masc/sg) car
(un/masc/sg)’
6. e allu el caballo [caballo]
‘the (masc/sg) horse
(masc/sg)’
7. e papá el papá [muñeco]
‘the (masc/sg) dad
(F/masc/sg)’2
8. a bola una/la bola [bola]
‘a/the (fem/sg) ball (fem/sg)’
9. a toya una/la motora [motora]
‘a/the (fem/sg) motorcycle
(fem/sg)’
10. a uu una/la luz [request]
‘a/the (fem/sg) light
(un/fem/sg)’
11. a mano una/la mano [mano]
‘a/the (fem/sg) hand
(M/fem/sg)’3
12. *a fore[h] las flores [flores]
‘a/the (fem/sg) flowers ‘the (fem/pl) flowers
(un/fem/pl)’ (un/fem/pl)’
12(a) *a fore[h] la flor *[flor]
‘a/the (fem/sg) flowers ‘the (fem/sg) flowers
(un/fem/pl)’ (un/fem/sg)’

Alonso

(Child) (Target) (Referent)


1. u caballo un caballo [caballo]
‘a/one (masc/sg) horse
(masc/sg)’
Appendices 193

(Child) (Target) (Referent)


2. e caballo el caballo [caballo]
‘the (masc/sg) horse
(masc/sg)’
2(a) e caballo los caballos *[caballos]
‘the (masc/sg) horse ‘the (masc/pl) horses
(masc/sg)’ (masc/pl)’
3. e carrito el carrito [tren]
‘the (masc/sg) (little) car
(masc/sg)’
4. e guauguau los guauguaus *[Four gatos]
‘the (masc/sg) dog
(un/masc/sg)’
5. e bibí el bibí [biberón]
‘the (masc/sg) bottle
(un/masc/sg)’
6. e pipí el pipí [pipí]
‘the (masc/sg) heinie
(un/masc/sg)’
7. a bola una/la bola [bola]
‘a/the (fem/sg) ball (fem/sg)’
8. a vaca una/la vaca [vaca]
‘a/the (fem/sg) cow
(fem/sg)’
9. a mano la mano [mano]
‘a/the (fem/sg) hand
(un/fem/sg)’
10. *a caballo un/el caballo [caballo]
‘a/the (UNM) horse ‘a/the (masc/sg) horse
(masc/sg)’ (masc/sg)’
10(a) *a caballo unos/los caballos *[caballos]
‘a/the (fem/sg) horse ‘some/the (masc/pl)
(masc/sg)’ horses (masc/pl)’
11. *a pelo el pelo [pelo]
‘a/the (UNM) hair (masc/sg)’ ‘the (masc/sg) hair
(masc/sg)’
12. *a guauguau el guauguau [perro]
‘a/the (UNM) dog ‘the (masc/sg) dog
(un/masc/sg)’ (masc/sg)’
194 First Language Acquisition in Spanish

(Child) (Target) (Referent)


13. *a pece los peces [Request]
‘a/the (UNM) fishes ‘the (masc/pl) fishes
(un/masc/sg)’ (masc/pl)’
14. *oo pie los pies [pies]
‘the (masc/pl) foot ‘the (masc/pl) feet
(un/masc/sg)’ (masc/pl)’
15. o[h] caballo[h] los caballos [caballos]
‘the (masc/pl) horses
(masc/pl)’
16. o[h] pece los peces *[cocodrilo]
‘the (masc/pl) fishes ‘the (masc/pl) fish
(un/masc/pl)’ (masc/pl)’

Londa

(Child) (Target) (Referent)


1. e guauguau el guauguau [perro]
‘the (masc/sg) dog
(un/masc/sg)’
2. e lón el león [león]
‘the (masc/sg) lion
(un/masc/sg)’
2(a) e lón los leones *[leones]
‘the (masc/sg) lion ‘the lion/ the (masc/
(un/masc/sg)’ pl) lions (masc/pl)’
3. a pielna una/la pierna [pierna]
‘a/the (fem/sg) leg (fem/sg)’
4. a ñama la grama [grama]
‘a/the (fem/sg) grass (fem/sg)’
5. a lu[h] una/la luz [luz]
‘a/the (fem/sg) light
(un/fem/sg)’
Appendices 195

Appendix C: Non-Target Demonstrative Pronouns

Elián

(Child) (Target) (Referent)


1. eso ese *[gato]
‘that (neut)’ ‘that (masc/sg) (one)’
2. *este ee una esta es una [mariposa]
‘this (masc/sg) (one) is one ‘this (fem/sg) (one) is
(fem/sg)’ one (fem/sg)’

Alonso

(Child) (Target) (Referent)


1. *So[h] Wili Ese es Wili [Wili]
‘That (neut) is Wili’ ‘That (masc/sg)
(one) is Wili’
2. Toa, ese e tuyo Toma, esa es tuya *[serpiente]
‘Take (it), this (masc/sg) is ‘Take (it), this (fem/
yours (masc/sg)’ sg) is yours (fem/
sg)’
3. Ese es tuyo Esa es tuya *[motora]
‘This (masc/sg) is yours ‘This (fem/sg) is
(masc/sg)’ yours (fem/sg)’
4. Tee[h] tuyo Esta es tuya *[flor]
‘This (masc/sg) is yours ‘This (fem/sg) is
(masc/sg)’ yours (fem/sg)’

Londa

(Child) (Target) (Referent)


1. Este está tistre Esta está triste *[luz]
‘This (masc/sg)(one) is sad ‘This (fem/sg) (one)
(un/sg.)’ is sad (un/sg)’
2. ¿Pasa a este? ¿Qué le pasa a esta? *[luz]
‘(What) is happening to this ‘(What) is happening
(masc/sg)(one)?’ to this(fem/sg)?’
196 First Language Acquisition in Spanish

(Child) (Target) (Referent)


3. Este ona Esta funciona *[luz]
‘This (masc/sg)(one) works’ ‘This (fem/sg)(one)
works’
4. Este tá feli[h] Esta está feliz *[luz]
‘This (masc/sg)(one) is ‘This (fem/sg) (one) is
happy (un/fem/pl)’ happy (un/fem/sg)’
5. Este ya tansó Esta ya (se) cansó *[luz]
‘This (masc/sg) (one) already ‘This (fem/sg) (one)
got tired’ already got tired’
6. Este ee sita Esta es (una) casita [casa]
‘This (masc/sg)(one) is house ‘This (fem/sg) is a
(dim/fem/sg)’ house (dim/
fem/sg)’
7. *Este es hija Esta es la hija [niña]
‘This (masc/sg)(one) is ‘This (fem/sg) is the
daughter (fem/sg)’ (fem/sg) daughter’
8. Anó este Ganó esta *[motora]
‘This (masc/sg)(one) won’ ‘This (fem/sg)(one)
won’
9. Ese Esa *[motora]
‘That (masc/sg)(one)’ ‘That (fem/sg)(one)’
10. Ese Esa *[vaca]
‘That (masc/sg) (one)’ ‘That (fem/sg) (one)’
11. *Ese[h] mamá Esa es la mamá [caballo]
‘That (masc/sg)(one) is mom ‘That (fem/sg)(one)
(fem/sg)’ is the (fem/sg)
mom’
12. Esta Este *[caballo]
‘This (fem/sg)(one)’ ‘This (masc/sg)
(one)’
13. *Esa[h] papá Ese es el papá [caballo]
‘That (fem/sg)(one) is dad ‘That (masc/sg)(one)
(masc/sg)’ is the (masc/sg) dad’
14. Esto Este *[pez]
‘That (neuter)’ ‘This (masc/sg)
(one)’
15. Esto lo senta Este lo siento *[muñeco]
‘This (neut) sits him ‘This (masc/sg) (I)
(masc/sg)’ sit him down’
Appendices 197

(Child) (Target) (Referent)


16. *Esto[h] son flore[h] Estas son flores [flores]
‘These (masc/pl)are flowers ‘These (fem/pl) are
(un/fem/pl)’ flowers (un/fem/pl)’
17. *Esto[h] son uita[h] Estas son uvitas [uvas]
‘These (masc/pl) are grapes ‘These (fem/pl) are
(dim/fem/pl)’ grapes (dim/fem/pl)’

Appendix D: Third Person Clitics

Elián

(Child) (Target) (Referent)


1. Mílalo Míralo [bebé]
‘Look at it (masc/sg)’
2. Lo piso Lo piso [avión]
‘(I) step on it (masc/sg)’
3. Mía a aquí Mírala aquí [tortuga]
‘Look at it (fem/sg) here’
4. La tiele Las tienes *[mariposas]
‘(he/she) has it (fem/sg)’ ‘(you) have them
(fem/pl)’

Alonso

(Child) (Target) (Referent)


1. Damedo Dámelo [Unknown]
‘Give to me it (masc./sg.)’
2. Coelo Cógelo [caballo]
‘Take it (masc./sg.)’
3. Ábrelo Ábrelo [lazo]
‘Open it (masc/sg)’
4. Ábolo Ábrelo [teléfono]
‘Open it (masc/sg)’
5. Ábelo Ábrelo/la [sticker-
pegatina]
‘Open it (masc/sg)’ ‘Open it (masc/sg)/
(fem/sg)’
198 First Language Acquisition in Spanish

(Child) (Target) (Referent)


6. Ábolo Ábrelo [muñeco]
‘Open it (masc/sg)’
7. Guadalo Guárdalo [teléfono]
‘Put it (masc/sg) away’
8. Aquí ponlo Aquí ponlo [guauguau]
‘Put it (masc/sg) here’
9. A ponlo aquí Ponlo aquí [muñeco]
‘Put it (masc/sg) here’
10. Sácalo Sácalo/la [sticker-
pegatina]
‘Take it (masc/sg) out’ ‘Take it (masc/sg)/
(fem/sg) out’
11. Lo como Me lo como [elefante]
‘(I) eat it (masc/sg)’ ‘(I) eat it (masc/sg) up’
12. Coelo[h] Cógelos [caballos]
‘Take them (masc/pl)’
13. Yo la abro Yo la abro [casa]
‘I open it (fem/sg)’
14. Sácala Sácasela [ropa]
‘Take it(fem/sg) off’ ‘Take it (fem/sg) off
(from her)’
15. Míala Mírala [bola]
‘Look at it (fem/sg)’
16. Ponla[h] aquí Ponlas aquí [motoras]
‘Put them (fem/pl) here’

Non-Target Tokens

17. Coelo Cógelos *[zapatos]


‘Take it (masc/sg)’ ‘Take them (masc/pl)’
18. Se lo come Se la come *[serpiente]
‘(he/she) eats him (masc/sg)’ ‘(She) eats her
(fem/sg)’
19. Lo guado La guardo *[vaca]
‘(I) put it (masc/sg) away’ ‘I put it (fem/sg) away’
20. Ábreco Ábrela *[bolsa]
‘Open it (masc/sg)’ ‘Open it (fem/sg)’
21. Vo gadarla Voy a guardarlos *[bloques]
‘(I) am going to put it ‘(I) am going to put
(fem/sg) away’ them (masc/pl) away’
Appendices 199

(Child) (Target) (Referent)


22. Lo apeto La aprieto *[luz]
‘(I) press it (masc/sg)’ ‘(I) press it (fem/sg)’
23. Guadalo Guárdala *[silla]
‘Put it(masc/sg) away’ ‘Put it (fem/sg) away’
24. Sácalo Sácasela *[ropa]
‘Take it (masc/sg) off’ ‘Take it (fem/sg) off
(from him)’

Londa

(Child) (Target) (Referent)


1. Ponlo así Ponlo así [caballo]
‘Put it (masc/sg) this way’
2. Esto a darselo (Vamos) A darle esto [pelo]
‘This to give it (masc/sg) to ‘(We are going) to
him’ give it to him’
3. Esto lo senta Este lo siento [muñeco]
‘This (neut) sits him (masc/sg)’ ‘This (masc/sg) (I) sit
him down’
4. Míralo Míralo [lagartijo]
‘Look at it (masc/sg)’
5. A hacel lo (Vamos) a hacerlo [Activity]
‘To do it (masc/sg)’ ‘(We are going) to do
it (masc/sg)’
6. La tá pendiendo La está prendiendo [luz]
‘(She) is turning it (fem/sg) on’
7. costarla (Vamos) a acostarla [muñeca]
‘Put her (fem/sg) to sleep’ ‘(We are going) to put
her to sleep’

Non-Target Tokens

(Child) (Target) (Referent)


8. *A abilo (Vamos) a abrirla *[casa]
‘To open it (masc/sg)’ ‘(We are going) to
open it (fem/sg)’
9. *Yo lo encendo Yo la enciendo *[luz]
‘I turn it (un/masc/sg) on’ ‘I turn it (un/fem/sg)
on’
200 First Language Acquisition in Spanish

Appendix E: Attributive Adjectives

Elián

(Child) (Target) (Referent)


1. Mira gande Mira la grande [naranja]
‘Look big (one)(un/sg)’ ‘Look the (fem/sg)
big (un/sg) (one)’
2. Si cayó, ecito Se cayó, pobrecito [muñeco]
‘(He) fell down, poor
(masc/sg)’

Alonso

(Child) (Target) (Referent)


1. Mira carito bonito Mira un carrito bonito [carro]
‘Look car pretty (masc/sg)’ ‘Look a (masc/sg) car
pretty (masc/sg)’

Londa

(Child) (Target) (Referent)


1. No, el quito No, el chiquito [león]
‘No, the small (one) (masc/sg)’
2. No, a mí me gusta ito No, a mí me gusta el [lagartijo]
chiquito
‘(I) like small (one) (masc/sg)’ ‘(I) like the (masc/sg)
small (one) (masc/sg)’
3. ande no cabe El grande no cabe [lagartijo]
‘Big (one) (un/sg) does not fit’ ‘The (masc/sg) does
not fit’
4. Yo engo gande Yo tengo el grande [teléfono]
‘I have big (un/sg) (one)’ ‘I have the (masc/sg)
big (un/sg) (one)’
5. Feli[h] (2 times) El feliz [tren]
‘Happy (un/sg) (one)’ ‘The (un/sg) happy
(un/sg) (one)’
6. Tistre ya anó El triste ya ganó [tren]
‘Sad (un/sg) (one) already ‘The (masc/sg) sad
won’ (un/sg) (one)
already won’
Appendices 201

(Child) (Target) (Referent)


7. Tistre El triste [tren]
‘Sad (un/sg) (one) ‘The (masc/sg) sad
(un/sg) (one)’
8. Azul El azul [pez]
‘Blue (un/sg) (one)’ ‘The (masc/sg) blue
(un/sg) (one)’

Non-Target Tokens

9. Feli[h] Los felices *[trenes]


‘Happy (one)(un/sg)’ ‘The (masc/pl) happy
(un/pl) (ones)’
10. *No, anaron feli[h] No, ganaron los felices [trenes]
‘No, won (3rd pers.pl) happy ‘No, won the (masc/
(un/sg)’ pl) happy (un/pl)
(ones)’
11. Tistre Los tristes *[trenes]
‘Sad (un/sg)(one)’ ‘The (masc/pl) sad
(un/pl)(ones)’
12. Azul, azul Los azules *[carros]
‘Blue (un/sg)(one), blue ‘The (masc/pl) blue
(un/sg)(one)’ (un/pl) (ones)’
13. Azul Los azules *[carros]
‘Blue (un/sg)(one)’ ‘The (masc/pl) blue
(un/pl)(ones)’
14. No, azul No, los azules *[carros]
‘No, blue (un/sg)(one)’ ‘No, the (masc/pl)
blue (un/pl)(ones)’

Appendix F: Predicative Adjectives4

Elián

(Child) (Target) (Referent)


1. Ii cayente está caliente [cámara]
‘(It) is (permanent) hot ‘(It) is (changeable)
(un/sg)’ hot (unm/sg)’
202 First Language Acquisition in Spanish

Alonso

(Child) (Target) (Referent)


1. Eee sucio Está sucio [muñeco]
‘(It) is (perm) dirty (masc/sg)’ ‘(It) is (chang) dirty
(masc/sg)’
2. Tá sucio Está sucio [Wili]
‘(It) is (chang) dirty (masc/sg)’ ‘(It) is (chang) dirty
(masc/sg)’
3. Tá sucio Está sucio [Alonso]
‘(It) is (chang) dirty (masc/sg)’ ‘(It) is (chang) dirty
(masc/sg)’
4. Tá iente Está caliente [cámara]
‘(It) is (chang) hot (un/sg)’
5. Tá duro Está duro [sticker]
‘It is (chang) hard (masc/sg)’
6. Tá sucio Está sucia *[bola]
‘(It) is (chang) dirty ‘(It) is (chang) dirty
(masc/sg)’ (fem/sg)’
7. Tá sucio Está sucia *[bola]
‘(It) is (chang) dirty ‘(It) is (chang) dirty
(masc/sg)’ (fem/sg)’
8. No, ucio No, (está) sucia *[media]
‘No, dirty (masc/sg)’ ‘No, (it is (chang))
dirty (fem/sg)’
9. *Son sucio Están sucios [pies]
‘(They) are (perm) dirty (masc/sg)’ ‘(They) are (chang)
dirty (masc/pl)’
10. tá espierto Está despierta *[vaca]
‘(It) is (chang) awake (masc./sg.)’ ‘(It) is (chang)
awake (fem/sg)’

Londa
(Tokens)
Masculine APs

(Child) (Target) (Referent)


1. avión ito el avión chiquito [avión]
‘Airplane small (masc/sg)’ ‘the airplane small
(masc/sg)’
Appendices 203

(Child) (Target) (Referent)


2. ito (es)chiquito [caballo]
‘small (masc/sg)’ ‘(it is) small (masc/sg)’
3. tá entado está sentado [mono]
‘(it) is (chang) seated (masc/sg)’
4. tá aostado está acostado [perro]
‘(it) is (chang) laying down
(masc/sg)’
5. No, gande No (es) grande [caballo]
‘No, big (un/sg)’ ‘No, (it is) big (un/sg)’
6. tá domío está dormido [caballo]
‘(it) is (chang) asleep
(masc/sg)’
7. Este ee gande Este es grande [avión]
‘This (masc/sg) is (perm) big
(un/sg)’
8. ee sucio está sucio [nene]
‘(it) is (perm) dirty (masc/sg)’ ‘(it) is (chang) dirty
(masc/sg)’
9. tá sucio está sucio [nene]
‘(it) is (chang) dirty (masc/sg)’
10. tá omido está dormido [perro]
‘(it) is (chang) asleep
(masc/sg)’
11. él no es malo él no es malo [not visible]
‘he is (perm) not bad
(masc/sg)’
12. tá andado está guardado [león]
‘(it) is (chang) put away
(masc/sg)’
13. Este ee ito Este es chiquito [lagartijo]
‘This (masc/sg) is (perm)
small (masc/sg)’
14. ande (es) grande [lagartijo]
‘Big (un/sg)’ (it is) big (un/sg)’
15. tá tistre está triste [pez]
‘(it) is (chang) sad (un/sg)’
16. este tá feli[h] este está feliz [pez]
‘this (masc/sg) is (chang)
happy (un/sg)’
204 First Language Acquisition in Spanish

(Child) (Target) (Referent)


17. azul (es) azul [camión]
‘Blue (un/sg)’
18. Está tistre Está triste [elefante]
‘(It) is (chang) sad (un/sg)’
19. tistre (Está) triste [tren]
‘Sad (un/sg)’
20. tá feli[h] está feliz [tren]
‘(it) is (chang) happy (un/sg)’
21. es tistre está triste [tren]
‘(it) is (perm) sad (un/sg)’
22. tá sucio está sucio [teléfono]
‘(it) is (chang) dirty (masc/sg)’
23. azul (es) azul [carro]
‘blue (un/sg)’
24. tá ontento está contento [muñeco]
‘(it) is (chang) happy
(masc/sg)’
25. Este tá tistre Este está triste [muñeco]
‘This (masc/sg) is (chang) sad
(un/sg)’

Feminine APs
26. No, ita No (es) chiquita [mariposa]
‘No, small (fem/sg)’
27. está tistre está triste [luz]
‘(it) is (chang) sad (un/sg)’
28. es tistre está triste [luz]
‘(it) is (perm) sad (un/sg)’
29. tá feli[h] está feliz [luz]
‘(it) is (chang) happy (un/sg)’
30. No, tá sucia No, está sucia [nena]
‘No, (it) is (chang) dirty
(fem/sg)’
31. tá inda está linda [muñeca]
‘(it) is (chang) pretty (fem/sg)’
32. tás fea estás fea [experimenter]
‘(you) are (chang) ugly
(fem/sg)’
Appendices 205

(Child) (Target) (Referent)


33. inda (estás) linda [experimenter]
‘pretty (fem/sg)’
34. Mira tá domida Mira está dormida [muñeca]
‘Look (she) is (chang) asleep
(fem/sg)’
35. Bebé tá omida La bebé está dormida [muñeca]
‘Baby is (chang) asleep ‘The baby is
(fem/sg)’ (chang) asleep
(fem/sg)’
36. muzada (estoy) esmoruzada [Londa]
‘uncombed (fem/sg)’ ‘(I am) uncombed
(fem/sg)’
37. azul (es) azul [blusa]
‘blue (un/sg)’
38. cerrada (está) cerrada [boca]
‘closed (fem/sg)’
39. tá cerrada está cerrada [boca]
‘(it) is (chang) closed (fem/sg)’
40. eta (es) violeta [motora]
‘violet (invariable/sg)’
41. ¿Tá limpia? ¿Está limpia? [media]
‘Is (chang)(it) cleaned
(fem/sg)?’
42. tá sucia está sucia [media]
‘(it) is (chang) dirty (fem/sg)’
43. yeya sucia (es) una media sucia [media]
‘Dirty (fem/sg) sock (fem/sg)’

Non-target APs
44. rojo (es) roja *[paleta]
‘red (masc/sg)’ ‘(it) is (perm) red
(fem/sg)’
45. rojo (es) roja *[motora]
‘red (masc/sg)’ ‘(it is (perm)) red
(fem/sg)’
46. etá bielto está abierta *[boca]
‘(it) is (chang) opened ‘(it) is (chang)
(masc/sg)’ opened (fem/sg)’
206 First Language Acquisition in Spanish

(Child) (Target) (Referent)


47. tá cerrado está cerrada *[boca]
‘(it) is (chang) closed ‘(it) is (chang)
(masc/sg)’ closed (fem/sg)’
48. *Yo estoy contento Yo estoy contenta *[Londa]
‘I am happy (masc/sg)’ ‘I am happy
(fem/sg)’
49. *Toy sentaou Estoy sentada *[Londa]
‘(I) am seated (masc/sg)’ ‘(I) am seated
(fem/sg)’
50. tá omido están dormidos *[caballos]
‘(it) is (chang) asleep ‘(They) are (chang)
(masc/sg)’ asleep (masc/pl)’
51. *Ello[h]ya antado Ellos ya están *[caballos]
levantados
‘They already awake (masc/ ‘They already are
sg)’ (chang) awake
(masc/pl)’
52. *flole gande flores grandes [flores]
‘big (un/sg) flowers (un/pl)’ ‘big (un/pl) flowers
(un/pl)’
53. feli[h] (están) felices *[trenes]
‘Happy (un/sg)’ ‘(they are (chang))
happy (un/pl)’
54. tá tistre están tristes *[trenes]
‘(it) is (chang) sad (un/sg)’ ‘(they) are (chang)
sad (un/pl)’
Notes

Preface
1
Notice that the term ‘default’ is used in this instance to refer to a language-specific
initial feature value, for example, Harris’ (1991) proposal of masculine and singu-
lar as default values for Spanish.

Chapter 1
1
For the present analysis, I have chosen the masculine and singular to label the
nominal features gender and number for expository purposes, because Spanish
only has two values for these features. The same analysis could be applied to lan-
guages with more than one gender by simply labeling these features as [gender,
number].
2
Farkas (1990) proposes a similar analysis based on the underspecification of the
gender feature for neuter gender nominals in Romanian.
3
Some nominals in Spanish are not morphologically marked for a specific gender,
for example, el/la estudiante (the (masc/fem) student). For these cases, I assumed
that they come from the lexicon already specified for the gender feature as either
masculine or feminine and that this specification becomes transparent when they
enter into an agreement relationship in the derivation.
4
See Bruening (2009) for arguments against the DP-Hypothesis.
5
I should point out that structures in this monograph are illustrated as projecting
X-bar levels for expository purposes. However, under the bare phrase structure
(Chomsky 1995), there are no bar levels.
6
As we have seen, functional categories are a vital component in the Minimalist
framework because of their presumed role in feature checking. Consequently,
several intermediate functional projections have been proposed in the literature
to account for gender and number agreement within DP. Among them, Ritter
(1993) proposes a non-unified treatment of gender and number features using a
comparative analysis of Hebrew and three Romance languages, including Spanish.
In her proposal, number projects its own functional phrase that serves as the com-
plement of D, whereas gender is a feature whose position varies cross-linguistically.
Similarly, Bernstein (1991, 1993) finds support for the availability of a Number
Phrase as the intermediate projection between the Determiner Phrase and the
Nominal Phrase in her analysis of prenominal adjectives in Walloon, a Romance
language spoken in Belgium. In contrast, Picallo (1991) states that both gender
and number should project their own functional projections following Pollock’s
208 Notes

(1989) Functional XP Hypothesis. Using data from Catalan DPs, she proposes a
cyclical derivation of nominal agreement, involving N-raising to Gender and
then to Number.
7
Implicit in this analysis is the assumption that the base order of these constituents
is [determiner + adjective + noun], as has been advanced in the literature, among
others by Bernstein (1991), Valois (1991), Picallo (1991), and Cinque (1994).
8
We should point out that word-order relations between the noun and the
adjective are more flexible in Spanish than in English. For example, qualifying
adjectives, such as those referring to colors, can occur also in prenominal position
in Spanish, for example, rojo abrigo ‘red coat,’ as well as in other Romance lan-
guages, such as Italian and French. However, as Demonte (1999) explains, color
adjectives in prenominal position carry a change in the meaning of the nominal
phrase: the use of prenominal color adjectives is literary, for example, in this case
it stresses the redness of the coat.
9
Other interesting variants of the weak continuity variation of the Continuity
Hypothesis are the Structure Building Model (Radford 1995, 2000) and the
Lexical Learning Approach (Clahsen, Parodi, & Penke 1993/1994; Clahsen,
Eisenbeiss, & Penke 1996). These two hypotheses argue that children are guided
by UG principles as they build syntactic structures but the process is a gradual
one based on lexical learning and the interaction of abstract knowledge. These
hypotheses, although interesting, will not be discussed in the present monograph
as the focus is the continuity versus the usage-based approaches controversy.
10
See Bohnacker (1997) for a discussion of Radford’s Maturational Hypothesis.
11
Yang (2004) presents evidence against these analyses, stating that this statistical
mechanism cannot segment sequences of monosyllabic words, which are abun-
dant in the input directed to children acquiring English.
12
See Crain and Thornton (2006) for a complete discussion of the inadequacies of
data-driven hypotheses.

Chapter 2
1
A total 15 subjects participated in the study but not all of them completed all
tasks due to illness. Another cause for data loss was equipment malfunction.
2
The original values of the MLU in words were calculated following Brown’s
(1973) criteria, that is, all repetitions were included in the calculation. The values
found were as follows: Elián (MLUw=1.6); Alonso (MLUw= 2.3); Londa (MLUw=
2.4); Diana (MLUw= 3.2); and Pepe (MLUw= 4.3). However, a second calculation
was carried out eliminating all repetitions from the data resulting in the lower
MLUw values shown in Table 2.1 above. This second calculation was motivated by
the fact that Alonso’s prevalent repetitions altered considerably his MLUw from a
value of 2.3 to a value of 1.9.
3
A revision was made regarding the adjectives included in the tasks. In the design-
ing phase of the study adjectives listed in (i) were selected from the Spanish
transcripts in the CHILDES database (MacWhinney & Snow 1985):
(i) (a) Size:
Chiquito ‘small’ (marked for gender, final –o or –a)
Grande ‘big’ (unmarked for gender, –e)
Notes 209

(b) State:
Mojado ‘wet’ (marked for gender)
Seco ‘dry’ (marked for gender)
Limpio ‘clean’ (marked for gender)
Sucio ‘dirty’ (marked for gender)
Peinado ‘combed’ (marked for gender)
Despeinado ‘uncombed’ (marked for gender)
(c) Emotion:
Feliz ‘happy ‘(unmarked for gender)
Triste ‘sad’ (unmarked for gender)
Only three adjectives unmarked for gender were found to be appropriate to use
for children these ages, grande ‘big,’ feliz ‘happy’ and triste ‘sad.’ Of these three
adjectives, all children recognized the contrast between grande/chiquito ‘big/
small’ consistently in the props, for example, a big phone versus a small phone.
The other two adjectives, feliz and triste, seemed to be obvious for the girls but not
so obvious for the boys. Similarly, we found gender differences regarding the
perception of the cleanliness of a toy, while boys seemed not to worry about
the cleanliness of a particular toy, girls, would immediately voice their concerns
about the dirty toy. The adjectives mojado/seco ‘dry/wet’ were eliminated because
it was not obvious to the children that a particular item was wet.
4
The use of these articles did not seem to have an effect on the children’s produc-
tion, since their answers would vary many times from the information provided,
as see in (i):
(i) Experimenter: Tengo los grandes
‘I have the (masc/pl) big (unm/pl) (ones) (two cars)’
Child: *Y yo chiquito
‘And I small (masc/sg) (one) (two cars)’
Moreover, within the UG framework the underlying assumption is that children
do not acquire grammar by imitating the input but by testing different hypothe-
ses on how the system works. These responses were not cases of immediate
repetitions.

Chapter 3
1
Demonte (1999) states that qualifying adjectives can be classified in several types:
(1) dimension/size, for example, largo/corto ‘long/short,’ (2) velocity or speed,
for example, rápido/lento ‘fast/slow;’ (3) physical characteristic, for example,
redondo/cóncavo ‘round/concave;’ (4) color and shape: for example, blanco/alar-
gado ‘white/elongated;’ (5) age: for example, antiguo/moderno ‘old/modern;’ (6)
valuation or evaluative: for example, excelente/horrible ‘excellent/horrible;’ and
(7) human aptitudes and predispositions: for example, capaz/emotivo ‘capable/
emotional.’
2
Recall from Chapter 1, I am adopting Cinque’s (1993) adjectival analysis, in
which adjectives are generated in prenominal position as specifiers of the func-
tional projection Agreement Phrase. In this analysis, the postnominal position of
the adjective in Spanish is the result of N-raising to check strong features.
210 Notes

3
Spanish gender paradigm assumes that there are two genders (masculine and
feminine); however, there is a third possibility: neuter. This third gender is overtly
expressed in the following five forms: the demonstratives esto ‘this,’ eso ‘that,’
aquello ‘that,’ and the pronouns ello ‘it,’ and lo ‘it.’ These neuter forms are prob-
lematic because they stand in isolation from the rest of the constituents; that is,
there are no other constituents in Spanish marked as such. In addition, when
these “neuter” forms surface with other constituents, such as nouns or adjectives,
they take the agreement markings of the masculine gender, for example, lo buen–o
‘the (neuter) quality of good.’ Researchers seem to agree that these forms do not
constitute a third gender in Spanish (Harris 1991; Klein 1989; Leonetti 1999,
among others). Several proposals have been made to account for these anoma-
lous members of Spanish gender paradigm. Harris affirms that neuter can only
be considered a subgender, because there are no neuter nominals in Spanish.
Klein (1989) proposes to analyze neuter as abstract reference, whereas Ojeda
(1984) proposes a reclassification of these elements as [–count]. Leonetti (1999)
states that the neuter forms do not oppose the rest of the paradigm morphologi-
cally but by a semantic feature, that is, their ability to denote only inanimate
entities or their ability to refer to non-countable referents.
4
Harris’ word classification is motivated by several factors: (1) numerical prepon-
derance: he states that the vast number of nouns, adjectives, and adverbs belong
to the core; (2) productivity: inner and outer cores are productive and accept loan-
words and other types of neologisms; and (3) historical shift: over time residue
constituents have moved to the core.
5
Phillips assumes that case-licensing is a rigid constraint, that is verb-raising must
take place. The author further assumes that case-licensing is regulated by the
Generalized Visibility Condition (Baker 1991; Shlonsky 1987), which states that pho-
netically interpreted NPs are case-licensed by PF but semantically interpreted
NPs are case-licensed by LF.
6
Furthermore, it is not uncommon for children in the beginning stages of acquisi-
tion to shorten words; in this case mota could just be a shortened version of the
motora.
7
Notice that Schnell de Acedo also analyzes in her study the percentage of deter-
miner omissions in obligatory contexts, a variable that was not taken into account
in the studies reviewed. I address the issue of determiner omission in Chapter 5.
8
No major conclusions can be drawn with respect to agreement in attributive adjec-
tival structures given the reduced number of utterances present in the data.
9
I should point out that the use of “default” with respect to the masculine gender
feature represents the most frequent or least marked value of this feature in the
Spanish language (Harris 1991; Teschner & Russell 1984; Trask 1993). In this
sense, this is a language-particular characteristic and as such, it is not specified
within UG.
10
The analysis of the data throughout the discussion is presented in the format of
utterances, which include all instances produced by the children, and tokens,
which reflect children’s production without repetitions.
11
This conclusion is based under the assumption MPH a has encoded the feminine
features.
12
I interpreted the long sound of the e as a shortened form of the copula es ‘is’ and
not está, because Alonso produced the form tá for está consistently in the data.
Notes 211

In addition, Example 3.22(e) provides evidence for the presence of this alterna-
tion between ser and estar, that is, Alonso produces son sucio instead of están sucios.
These two examples seem to indicate that this child has not yet acquired the dis-
tinction between these two representations of the copula ‘to be.’
13
Another possibility is that the child was referring to all the cats available and he did
not pronounce the plural marker, namely the final s, for example, esos ‘these (ones)’
(masculine/plural). In this case the paradigm is regular, with the masculine plural
demonstrative marked canonically with os, for example, esos ‘these (ones).’

Chapter 4
1
Marrero and Aguirre state that children in their study produce singulars to refer
to plural referents at the pre-morphological stage. However, they do not provide
a clear assessment of how pervasive this issue was in the production data.
2
Notice that in this analysis individuals and quantifiers are considered argumental
because of their association with constituents occupying argument positions in
clauses, for example, subject, object.
3
The researchers argue that the initial default value is the Chinese one because it
is the more restrictive in the sense that this type of language lacks determiners,
numerals, and plural morphology.
4
Rigau (1999) states that in Spanish the partitive article formed by [de + definite
article] as in Italian and French, was lost. She argues that Spanish does not pos-
sess a partitive explicit determiner, that is, the partitive determiner appears as an
article without phonological content.
5
The plural las gramas ‘the grasses’ is available in the Spanish grammar but it is
used to refer to different types of grass, for example, Kentucky grass versus blue
grass. In this particular example the child is not referring to different kinds of
grass.
6
Recall that according to the Nominal Mapping Parameter (Chierchia 1998a;
1998b; Chierchia et al. 2000), children start the acquisition process with the
parameter set to the Chinese language value; that is, they would treat all nomi-
nals as mass. Hence, this parameter predicts that at the initial stages of acquisition,
children will not pluralize any nominals (e.g., Chinese), nor will they produce
any determiners since nouns in this setting are arguments. Then, the learner
would reset the NMP to the value of Germanic languages on the basis of positive
evidence; that is, nominals would be treated as both arguments and predicates.
In this stage, the NMP predicts that children would produce nominals with and
without determiners as they start classifying them as count or mass. Finally, chil-
dren acquiring a language like Spanish would converge to the Romance target
setting in which the nominals are predicates; that is, nominals in general need to
have an overt determiner to become arguments.
7
Notice that this conclusion contrasts with our findings on gender, that is, chil-
dren exhibited no problems marking gender inflection on nominals. This brings
support to the hypothesis that the nominals come from the lexicon with their
gender morphology specified.
8
This result does not support Pizzutto and Caselli’s (1992) finding for Italian
regarding bound morphology. In particular they found that the acquisition
212 Notes

of bound morphology precedes that of free suppletive morphemes such as


articles. Perhaps this is the case in Italian because of the difficulties Italian chil-
dren face concerning the acquisition of the complex article paradigm in that
language.
9
Notice that Bare Noun Phrases in the present analysis include both target-like
Bare Nominals (BNs) and non-target-like BNs. This chapter addresses only tar-
get-like BNs and those non-target-like BNs which involve a number mismatch,
whereas non-target-like BNs pertaining determiner omissions are discussed in
Chapter 5.
10
I should point out the ambiguity present in this particular type of non-target-like
utterances, although it is clear that the referent is plural, for example, caballos
‘horses,’ the child’s intended meaning, definite or indefinite, is not transparent.
Spanish grammar marks this contrast as follows: by using the definite article with
the noun for example, mira los caballos ‘look (at) the horses,’ the child will mark
the definiteness feature on his utterance; on the other hand, by using a bare
plural, for example, mira caballos ‘look horses,’ the child will mark the generic
nature of his referent, specifically the existence of horses. However, as illustrated
above, either choice requires the marking of the feature number in the noun, for
example, caballo–s.
11
Nominals like pez ‘fish,’ and flor ‘flower’ that end in a final consonant in the sin-
gular, were included in the study because they form the plural by adding –es
instead of –s, for example, peces and flores. In this fashion, even if the children
omit the final –s, a characteristic of the Puerto Rican dialect, we would have evi-
dence of the number feature by the presence of the epenthetic vowel –e, for
example, pece, flore.
12
The remaining 92 instances were distributed as follows: 48 instances of target-like
reference; 26 requests for objects not present; and 17 instances of undetermined
referents, that is, instances in which the intended referent was not clear.
13
This is another example in which the child used the copula ser ‘to be (perma-
nent)’ instead of estar ‘to be (changeable)’ to mark a changeable state.

Chapter 5
1
Another proposal put forth in the literature to account for the phenomenon of
determiner omission in child language is the Number Underspecification Hypothesis
(Hoekstra & Hyams 1995; Hoekstra, Hyams, & Becker 1997). Proponents of the
Underspecification Hypothesis state that determiner omissions in early grammars
result from the optional underspecification of Number. In this analysis, articles
are the realization of the feature number: when this feature is specified (e.g.,
[+ sg, –pl]), then D is filled by an overt article, but when it is left underspecified,
D would be empty and children would produce Bare Noun Phrases. Crucially
within this hypothesis, D is always projected in child language. This hypothesis
presents the advantage of assuming that children’s grammars always project a DP,
equating them with adults’ grammars. However, it does not explain why children
leave number underspecified, nor does it explain the process of convergence on
the target grammar.
Notes 213

2
Notice though that Marrero and Aguirre’s (2003) study found similar results
even though some of the children in their study spoke a dialect with no final –s
aspiration.
3
The remaining four instances involved Alonso’s production of the MPH (Bottari
et al. 1993/1994) a (considered to mark the feminine gender in the present
analysis) with masculine nouns. However, the analysis presented in Chapter 3
provided evidence that these four cases did not involve gender mismatches;
rather, they were instances of vocalic place holders, void of any featural content.
4
The remaining four instances involved Alonso’s production of the MPH (Bottari
et al. 1993/1994) a (considered to mark the feminine gender in the present
analysis) with masculine nouns. However, the analysis presented in Chapter 3
provided evidence that these four cases did not involve gender mismatches;
rather, they were instances of vocalic place holders, void of any featural content.

Chapter 6
1
This points to the fact that children at the beginning stages of acquisition do not
make use of the morphophonological cues available in the input, contrary to Pérez-
Pereira’s (1991) findings for children between the ages of 4 and 11. The children
in his study paid attention to intralinguistic cues in the assignment of gender.
2
Although Elián’s production can be characterized as singular, he seems to have
set the NMP parameter to the same value as Alonso and Londa because he is
producing target-like MPH/DPs.
3
Notice that I analyzed the four gender mismatches found in the MPH/DP pro-
duction not as the feminine MPH a but as true place holders without a gender
specification. As a result, they do not involve a gender mismatch.

Appendices
1
In the examples above the following abbreviations were used:
masc masculine
N/A Not applicable
fem feminine
un unmarked overtly for gender
sg singular
pl plural
2
The ‘F’ indicates that this nominal has the canonical mark of feminine nouns
even though it is masculine.
3
The ‘M’ indicates that this nominal has the canonical mark of masculine nouns
even though it is feminine.
4
The copula ‘to be’ has two representations in Spanish, ser and estar which serve to
mark the contrast between an attribute perceived as permanent (or individual
predicate) in the case of the former, versus one perceived as changeable (or a
stage level predicate) in the case of the latter. In the text the abbreviations ‘chang.’
and ‘perm.’ refer to changeable attribute and permanent attribute respectively.
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Index

Page numbers in bold denote tables

Abney, S. P. 3 Caselli, M. C. 11–12, 44, 54, 63, 96, 154,


acquisition strategy proposal 35, 37, 42, 157, 161, 163, 171, 177, 211n. 8
93, 168, 175, 179 Chierchia, G. 6, 8, 16, 96–100, 103,
masculine value as last resort 169 106, 109, 111, 153, 160, 173–5,
agreement 27 180, 183, 185, 211n. 6
in Spanish Determiner Chilosi, A. M. 12, 100, 151
Phrases 27–31 Chomsky, N. 1, 3–4, 151, 168, 176,
demonstrative pronouns 29 207n. 5
Aguirre, C. 38, 40, 42, 44, 46–7, 52, 54, Cinque, G. 3–4, 168, 177, 208n. 7, 209n. 2
96–7, 104, 111–12, 118, 152, 161, Cipriani, P. 12, 100, 151
164, 177, 182–4, 211n. 1, 213n. 2 Clahsen, H. 6, 35, 208n. 9
Alcina, F. J. 94 Continuity Hypothesis 5
Ambadiang, T. 30–1, 94 strong continuity versus weak
Aronoff, M. 2 continuity 5–6
Crain, S. 6–7, 9–10, 63, 78, 148, 151,
Baker, C. L. 5 153, 159, 177, 208n. 12
Bare Noun Phrase (BNP) 43, 113, 139,
153 Davey, N. 7
distribution of 114 de Lange, M. J. 161
non-target-like BNPs 115 Demonte, V. 30, 208n. 8, 209n. 1
Becker, M. 212n. 1 Deprez, V. 6
Behrens, H. 7 determiner phrase (DP) 2–3, 7, 9
Bernstein, J. 4, 207n. 6, 208n. 7 initial values for gender and
Blecua, J. M. 94 number 168–75
Bloom, P. 6 in Spanish child language 152–67
Bohnacker, U. 208n. 10 Dolitsky, M. 60
Borer, H. 35–6, 63, 166
Bosque, I. 3, 95 Eisenbeiss, S. 35
Bottari, P. 12, 25, 53–4, 59, 61–2, 100, experimental methodology 9–26
122, 151, 161, 178, 213n. 3 naturalistic vs. experimental 38
Brown, R. 36 tasks 12–23
Bruening, B. 207n. 4 data 9–11
Brugè, L. 4, 168, 177 elicited production tasks 16–23,
Bruhn de Garavito, J. 52 21–2
number comprehension
Campagnoli, M. G. 12 task 13–16, 16
Caprin, C. 161 other props 23
222 Index

experimental methodology (Cont’d) Hernández-Pina, F. 11, 38–42, 54, 70,


subjects 11–12, 12 111–12, 152–3, 161, 163, 178, 183
transcription and coding 23–6 Hoekstra, T. N. 212n. 1
data 25–6, 26 Hyams, N. 5, 212n. 1
explanatory adequacy 7, 96, 151, 173
initial state, the (in language
Farkas, D. 170, 207n. 2 acquisition) 5–8
features Continuity Hypothesis 5–6
checking/copy 52, 63, 93, 151–2, Strong continuity versus Weak
176–7 continuity 5–6
interpretable vs. uninterpretable discontinuous analyses of 7
2–4 usage based approaches 7, 160,
strong vs weak 4 162, 165, 167, 181
Fernández Leborans, M. J. 71 initial values
Fodor, J. D. 168 gender and number
functional projections (FPs) 36 features 168–75
Inman, K. 68
Gavarró, A. 161
gender acquisition 38–45 Klein, P. W. 32, 210n. 3
experimental approach to 42–5 Koehn, C. 2, 27, 44, 139
research in 38–42
gender agreement 31–4, 45–6 learnability 5, 100, 111, 159, 167–8
adjectival agreement 63–84 Leonetti, M. 210n. 3
attributive adjectives 63–70 Lexicalist Hypothesis 165
predicative adjectives 70–84 Lexical Items (LIs) 1, 3
default value for gender 34–8 Lieven, E. M. 7, 152
demonstrative pronouns 86–91 Lleó, C. 54, 63, 153, 161, 163
DP gender agreement 46–53 Logical Form (LF) 2
Monosyllabic Place Holder Longobardi, G. 4
Determiner Phrases 53–63 López Ornat, S. 7, 38, 43–4, 46, 54,
MPHs 54, 56–7, 59, 61–2 61, 96, 111–12, 152–3, 161, 163,
gender mismatches 39, 57, 78, 80, 167, 178
170, 183 Lust, B. 7
grammatical vs semantic
agreement 139–40 MacWhinney, B. 7, 10
third person clitic pronouns 91–3 Maez, L. 38–9, 42, 44
Goodluck, H. 5 Mariscal, S. 43, 47, 52, 61, 64, 68, 78, 129
Gordon, P. 106 Marrero, V. 44, 96, 97, 104, 111–12,
grammatical conservatism 166 118, 182–4, 211n. 1, 213n. 2
Gualmini, A. 6, 8, 98, 153, 160 Martínez, J. A. 28
Guasti, M. T. 8, 98, 153, 160–1, 163, 178 Maturational Hypothesis 7
Gutiérrez Ordónez, S. 157 Mazzuchi, A. 37
McCarthy, J. 5
Haegeman, L. 36 Mean Length of Utterances
Harris, J. W. 2, 16, 29, 31–4, 36, 59, (MLU) 11–12, 26, 41, 43–4, 47,
96–7, 100, 111, 168, 210n. 3, 99, 110, 115, 163, 166, 174, 176
n. 4, n. 9 in words 12, 208n. 2
Index 223

Menn, L. 161 Picallo, C. 3, 207n. 6, 208n. 7


Merge 3 Pietroski, P. 6, 151, 177
Meroni, L. 6 Pine, J. M. 7, 152
Messer, D. 7 Pinker, S. 5, 63, 151, 177
Miceli, G. 37 Pizzutto, E. 11–12, 44, 54, 63, 96,
Minimalist Program (MP) 1, 176 154, 157, 161, 163, 177,
agreement in 1–5 211n. 8
checking relation 3 Pollock, J. Y. 207n. 6
features see features Prado, M. 94
last resort 37, 169, 175, 179 Principles & Parameters Approach 1
N-movement 4 Puerto Rican Spanish dialect 23, 103,
nominal agreement 3–5 212n. 11
Miyagawa, S. 4 Pullum, G. 7
Miyamoto, Y. 148
Montrul, S. A. 167 Radford, A. 3, 7, 35, 208n. 10
morphophonological cues 34, 212n. 1 Rigau, G. 211n. 4
Müller, N. 45 Ritter, E. 207n. 6
Roberge, Y. 36–7
Nakayama, M. 6 Rohrbacher, B. 35–7, 63, 166
Nix, A. 7 Russell, W. M. 33–4, 210n. 9
Nominal Mapping Parameter
(NMP) 98, 173 Schnell de Acedo, B. 12, 38, 40–2, 44,
Noun Phrases (NPs) 3 47, 52, 112, 157, 164, 177–8,
number agreement 94–6 183, 210n. 7
acquisition research 111–13 Scholz, B. 7
delay on number acquisition 96, 111, Senghas, A. 68
122, 139–40, 176, 182–3 Shlonsky, U. 210n. 5
experimental research 113–50 Smith, P. 7
grammatical versus semantic Snape, N. 161
agreement 139–40 Snow, C. 10
number comprehension 140–9 Snyder, W. 10–11, 38, 42–4, 47, 68, 129,
initial default value 96–111 157, 164, 166, 177–8, 183
mass as default 102–11 Socarrás, G. M. 78
singular as default 101–2 Solt, S. 151
Stewart, J. 151
Ojeda, A. 210n. 3
tasks
Parodi, T. 208n. 9 elicited production 1, 9, 12,
parsing preference 78, 148–9, 184 16–23
collective interpretation 147–8 number comprehension 1, 13–16
color adjectives 135, 184 Teschner, R. V. 33–4, 210n. 9
Penke, M. 208n. 9 Thornton, R. 6–7, 9–10, 63, 78, 153,
Pérez Pereira, M. 41, 74, 111, 120, 183, 159, 177, 208n. 12
213n. 1 timing of acquisition
Peters, A. 161 gender vs. number 44, 116, 182
Phillips, C. 35, 37, 63, 169 Tomasello, M. 7, 152–3
Phonological Form (PF) 2 Trask, R. L. 168, 210n. 9
224 Index

Universal Grammar (UG) 2, 5–6, 96, Varlokosta, S. 37–8


152, 160 Volterra, V. 12
usage-based approaches 7, 152,
159–60, 162, 165, 167, 178, 181 Weak Continuity Hypothesis 152
linear matching hypothesis 62 Wexler, K. 35–6, 63
White, L. 52
Vainikka, A. 6, 35, 37 Word Markers (WMs) 32
Valian, V. 6, 63, 151
Valois, D. 208 Yang, C. D. 208n. 11