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Project members

  • Sabine Stoll
  • Roland Meyer (University of Regensburg)

The Acquisition of Subjects in English, Russian and Polish

This project investigated the well-known phenomenon of subject omision in early child language. The goal of the project was to find out whether the degree of overt subject expression in the target grammar of a language influences the pathways children take to learn this category.

It is well established that children leave out many elements in their early utterances. In this project, we focused of the omission of subjects. Early omission of subjects seems to happen in all languages independent on whether subjects are obligatory as in English or not as for instance in Polish.

In this project we investigated how children learn the use of subjects in three languages differing in their obligatoriness of the expression of subjects. The languages were: English, Russian and Polish. Concerning their obligatory expression of subjects these three languages can be ordered on a scale. English expresses subjects obligatorily and allows pro-drop only in very restricted contexts. Whether Russian is a so-called pro-drop language has been hotly disputed and the answers depend strongly on the theory chosen. However, it is clear that Russian allows pro-drop in a wide variety of contexts and the use of overt subjects is pragmatically determined. In Polish, the third language of our sample, pro-drop is assumed to be even more prevalent than in Russian and pro-drop is even obligatory in many contexts.

In this project we investigated the use of subjects in longitudinal child language corpora of the three languages. We compared the development in the children’s use over time within a language and across languages. The goal was to find out whether language-specific differences play a role right from the beginning of language acquisition.