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Tense, Aspect, and Mood in Early Child-Greek Utterance-Level Constructions, A Usage-Based Approach

U.Stephany (Cologne)

There are presently two main theoretical paradigms to be found in the domain of developmental psycholinguistics: One of them attempts to account for language acquisition by positing an innate universal grammar and the other one does so by assuming <<only a single set of cognitive, social-cognitive, and learning processes>> [Tomasello 2003: 182]. Nativist descriptions of child language are cast within one of the current models of generative approaches to linguistics (Principles and Parameters, Minimalism), which are best characterized as formal approaches to grammar concentrating on syntax. As opposed to these, non-nativist approaches pay special attention to the very process of first language acquisition, i.e. to how children might go about learning the correspondences between particular communicative functions and particular linguistic forms in the language they are acquiring. The usage-based and constructivist theory of the acquisition of grammar, which will be followed in the present paper, may be considered as one of the most interesting present theoretical approaches to the study of child language and language acquisition within the non-nativist paradigm and is based on work by Michael Tomasello, Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology, Leipzig, Germany, and others [Tomasello 2003].

The present paper is a pilot study, in which a first attempt will be made to study the acquisition of the major grammatical categories of the Modern Greek verb, namely Aspect, Tense, and Mood, by relating the TAM forms of verbal lexemes occurring in Greek child speech to the types of utterance-level constructions in which they appear. Evidence for early item-specific and construction-specific learning (e.g., use of a particular grammatical form of a particular verb in a particular construction, such as a yes/no question) will be related to more lexeme-general and construction-general learning, thus accounting for the gradual development of the child's early piecemeal knowledge of grammatical forms (word forms and utterance level constructions) and their functions into more general, more systematic, and more abstract knowledge of the structure and functioning of the child's native language.


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Tomasello M. Constructing a Language: A Usage-Based Theory of Language Acquisition. Cambridge MA / London: Harvard University Press. 2003.