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Competing Motivations in Grammar and Usage$
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Brian MacWhinney, Andrej Malchukov, and Edith Moravcsik

Print publication date: 2014

Print ISBN-13: 9780198709848

Published to Oxford Scholarship Online: January 2015

DOI: 10.1093/acprof:oso/9780198709848.001.0001

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Competing motivations in children's omission of subjects? The interaction between verb finiteness and referent accessibility

Competing motivations in children's omission of subjects? The interaction between verb finiteness and referent accessibility

Chapter:
(p.144) 9 Competing motivations in children's omission of subjects? The interaction between verb finiteness and referent accessibility
Source:
Competing Motivations in Grammar and Usage
Author(s):

Mary E. Hughes

Shanley E. M. Allen

Publisher:
Oxford University Press
DOI:10.1093/acprof:oso/9780198709848.003.0009

Children acquiring a first language omit sentential subjects more frequently than their adult counterparts. The posited motivation for this non‐target‐like omission differs across theoretical accounts: nativists claim that subjects are omitted when the accompanying verb is non‐finite, while usage‐based theorists claim that subjects are omitted when referents are accessible. Given the lack of dialogue between theories, these motivations are seen as competing, meaning that only one account provides the correct explanation. This chapter demonstrates that these two motivations interact rather than compete. Spontaneous speech data from monolingual English‐speaking children and their caregivers shows that subjects are more likely omitted when their referents are accessible in both finite and non‐finite contexts, and that subjects are more likely omitted in non‐finite contexts both when they are maximally accessible and when they are maximally inaccessible.

Keywords:   subject omission, first language development, competing motivations, argument realization, referential choice, accessibility, finiteness, root infinitive, null subject, discourse‐pragmatics

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