About this Research Topic
Hundreds of languages around the world—from the Himalayas to the Amazon, New Guinea to Ethiopia, and Australia to the Caucasus—involve complex sentences that flaunt the traditional syntactic division between clause coordination and subordination. These sentences, known as clause chains, involve multiple clauses with verbal predicates known as ‘converbs’ or ‘medial verbs’ (from two to as many as 100) that, while syntactically linked, are neither clearly subordinate nor coordinate in the traditional senses. In many languages, clause chains are the preferred or obligatory sentence type for describing series of events or actions; they often have extended functions to express notions like benefaction, desire, and causation. To date, research on child acquisition of clause combining has built on the subordinate/coordinate distinction in languages like English. The crucial next step is to study children’s acquisition of clause chains. Children acquiring these languages may show precocious clause combinations that, for instance, involve more than one event, in comparison to children acquiring better-studied languages, for whom it has been shown that early clause combinations usually involve a single event.
A further characteristic of some clause chaining languages is that morphological flags occur within the clause chain to indicate changes in subject. This marking, known as switch-reference, requires the speaker to know in advance what the subject of the upcoming clause will be. Switch-reference marking entails speech planning across clauses, rather than simple incremental planning of individual clauses. Child acquisition of switch-reference marking has yet to be examined in detail for any language, but it here again children acquiring clause chaining languages could show precocious sentence planning abilities, and sensitivity to referent tracking relative to children acquiring English.
This Research Topic brings together descriptions of child acquisition of clause chains in diverse languages from around the world with the aim of expanding our understanding of children’s ability to learn and produce complex sentences. Beyond a basic syntactic criterion defining clause chains as one or more converbs plus a regular verb, there is great diversity in associated morphology. Some languages have multiple converb forms that denote different temporal or aspectual relationships between clauses in the chain. In others, converbs not only indicate switch-reference, but announce in advance what the subject of the next clause will be. The languages covered in the Research Topic will include languages such as Chintang (Tibeto-Burman, Nepal), Nungon (Papuan, Papua New Guinea), and Pitjantjatjara (Pama-Nyungan, Australia), as well as better-known languages like Turkish, Japanese, and Korean. Since clause chains and switch-reference systems have not received their due attention from researchers into adult language, these papers stand to contribute to both acquisition research and linguistic typology.
Keywords: Language Acquisition, Clause Chain, Syntax, Clause Combining, Child-Directed Speech
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