Child Language

Children’s acquisition of morphosyntactic variation

Despite the widespread demonstration that the variable linguistic behavior of adults is highly systematic (e.g. Labov 1994), it is not yet well understood when and how children converge on probabilistic components of grammar. Do the most frequent constraints on variation emerge before less frequent constraints? Do constraints emerge first in frequent structures? Do bilingual children differ from monolingual children in their acquisition of morphosyntactic variation? In a recent paper, Karen Miller and I propose a four-step developmental pathway for the acquisition of morphosyntactic variation. The proposed pathway is grounded in empirical findings, includin gsome of my own from corpus studies of monolingual children’s acquisition of Spanish subject pronoun expression and subject-verb ~ verb-subject word order, as well as bilingual children's acquisition of variable clitic placement and subject pronoun expression.

Minority language acquisition

This research examines children’s acquisition of minority languages in New Mexico.* In collaboration with Jill Morford, Barbara Shaffer and our students, we are examining children’s use of demonstratives in Spanish and in ASL. We ask how children’s and adults’ conceptualization of shared space is manifested in their use of demonstratives. We ask whether/how restricted input in the minority language (Spanish or ASL) affects children’s demonstratives. Thus far, we have published two articles on the influence of spatial and intersubjective factors on adults' use of demonstratives, one article focusing on Spanish and the other on ASL. Our article examining Spanish-speaking children's demonstratives across two age groups will appear in 2021, and we have an additional article on the influence of input on bilingual children's demonstratives that is currently under review. *Funded by an ADVANCE UNM Women in Stem award. In collaboration with YDI Head Start, we have investigated standardized progress monitoring tests commonly used to assess children's language skills to determine whether these tests are appropriate for our multilingual and multicultural community. *Funded by the McCune Charitable Foundation.

Bilingual children's direct object clitics and grammatical gender

In a study of bilingual children's production of grammatical gender in Spanish, Tom Goebel-Mahrle and I find that both monolingual and bilingual Spanish-speaking children produce very few gender mismatches. For example, article and noun gender almost always match. At the same time, older school-age Spanish-English bilingual children tend to rely on masculine direct object clitic 'lo' when referring to masculine and feminine referents alike. This finding is further illustrated in a study* of bilingual chidren's comprehension and production of Spanish direct object clitic gender, in which Barbara Rodríguez, Aja Armijo, and Molly Perara-Lunde and I found that children with higher English vocabulary scores and higher levels of English use at home produce more direct object clitic gender mismatches, especially the use of 'lo' to refer to inanimate feminine referents. In contrast, Spanish vocabulary scores, but not English vocabulary or use, correlate with direct object expression with transitive verbs. In a follow-up study (Shin, under review) of these same children's production of transitive verbs, I find that the most important factor determining direct object expression versus omission is the aspect (lexical and morphological) of the verb. Currently, I am collaborating with Alejandro Cuza and Liliana Sánchez to investigate bilingual children's direct object clitic gender. This study** includes monolingual Spanish-speaking children and adults in Mexico, as well as bilingual children in New Mexico and Indiana.

*Funded by SI Foundation and UNM RAC. **Funded by Purdue University.