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The Meaning of Case: Morphosyntactic Bootstrapping and Icelandic Datives

The Meaning of Case: Morphosyntactic Bootstrapping and Icelandic Datives

Title: The Meaning of Case: Morphosyntactic Bootstrapping and Icelandic Datives
Author: Nowenstein, Iris   orcid.org/0000-0003-1945-163X
Sigurjónsdóttir, Sigríður
Yang, Charles
Ingason, Anton   orcid.org/0000-0002-2069-5204
Wallenberg, Joel
Date: 2020
Language: English
Scope: 402-415
University/Institute: Háskóli Íslands
University of Iceland
School: Hugvísindasvið (HÍ)
School of Humanities (UI)
Department: Íslensku- og menningardeild (HÍ)
Faculty of Icelandic and Comparative Cultural Studies (UI)
Málvísindastofnun (HÍ)
The Institute of Linguistics (UI)
ISBN: 978-1-57473-057-9
Series: Proceedings of the Annual Boston University Conference on Language Development;44
ISSN: 1080-692X
Subject: Íslenska; Icelandic; Tungumálakennsla; Börn; Orðaforði
URI: https://hdl.handle.net/20.500.11815/1998

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Nowenstein, Iris Edda, Sigríður Sigurjónsdóttir, Charles Yang, Anton Karl Ingason and Joel Wallenberg. 2020. “The Meaning of Case Morphosyntactic bootstrapping and Icelandic Datives.” In Brown, Megan M., and Alexandra Kohut (eds.): Proceedings of the 44th Annual Boston University Conference on Language Development, pp. 402-415. Cascadilla Press, Somerville, Massachusetts


Do children use the same resources to learn verb meaning across languages? One approach to language acquisition in which universality has been extensively debated is the syntactic bootstrapping hypothesis, which proposes that children use the argument structure of a verb as a cue to its meaning (Landau & Gleitman 1985, Gleitman 1990, Naigles et al. 1993). In recent years, the extent to which verbal morphology and morphosyntax can be informative of verb semantics has been the subject of cross-linguistic research, with one of the primary questions being whether possibly (syntactic) universal cues have an advantage over language-specific (morphological) ones (e.g. Lidz et al. 2003, Göksun et al. 2008, Matsuo et al. 2012, Trueswell et al. 2012 and Leischner et al. 2016). Using corpora and experimental acquisition data from Icelandic, a language with almost no argument-drop and rich case morphology, we provide qualified support for a morphosyntactic bootstrapping account that does not exclusively rely on universal cues, since a learning model detects the available systematic mappings of form and meaning (Yang 2016). In specific contexts, we argue that morphology can be as salient as the number of arguments. Additionally, we argue that experimental comprehension results show the necessary basis for the well-documented productivity of the Icelandic non-default dative (Maling 2002, Svenonius 2002, Jónsson and Eythórsson 2005, Ingason 2010 and Barðdal 2011 i.a.). Specifically, we show that non-default subject case marking rules can be accounted for with Yang’s (2016) Tolerance Principle (TP).Lidz et al. (2003), based on ideas of universal syntax-semantics mapping, argued that children initially rely on argument number and ignore morphological form to bootstrap verb meaning, even when the morphology provides stronger cues. This has been challenged from various perspectives, one of them being typological evidence against the universality of argument structure cues (Brown & Bowerman 2008).Still, even work on argument-drop languages such as Japanese and Turkish reveals that children use syntactic frames as cues – in addition to e.g. case morphology (Göksun et al. 2008 and Matsuo et al. 2012). Furthermore, research on German (Leischner et al. 2016) shows that children rely less on the number of arguments and more on case when word order is highly flexible. But what about languages that do not drop arguments and have a relatively rigid word order (like English) but still have a rich morphological case system (like Turkish)? Icelandic is such a language, with robust semantically driven dative productivity in subject and object case, and also well-documented links between case and lexical semantics (e.g. Jónsson 1997–1998, Maling 2002, Svenonius 2002 and Barðdal 2008).


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