The role of discourse pragmatics in the acquisition of subjects in Italian

Ludovica Serratrice

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    This longitudinal study investigates the distribution of null and overt subjects in the spontaneous production of six Italian-speaking children between the ages of 1 year, 7 months and 3 years, 3 months. Like their peers acquiring other Romance null-subject languages, the children in this sample produced more overt subjects as their mean length of utterance in words (MLUW) increased. Pronominal subjects, and specifically first person pronouns, accounted for an increasingly larger proportion of the overt subjects used. The distribution of both pronominal and lexical subjects was further investigated as a function of the informativeness value of a number of pragmatically relevant features. The results showed that as early as MLUW 2.0 Italian-speaking children can use null and overt subjects in a pragmatically appropriate way. The relevance of these findings is discussed with reference to performance limitation and syntactic accounts of subject omission, and implications are drawn for a model of language development that incorporates the mastery of pragmatics in the acquisition of syntax. © 2005 Cambridge University.
    Original languageEnglish
    Pages (from-to)437-462
    Number of pages25
    JournalApplied Psycholinguistics
    Issue number3
    Publication statusPublished - Jul 2005


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