Fall 2016

LING 539 and 739: First Language Acquisition II

The Acquisition of Person

Tu-Th 2:30 - 3:45 pm, 108 Blake

Instructor: Clifton Pye (pyersqr at ku dot edu)

Office Hours: Tu-Th 1-2 pm or by appointment

      This course will survey the literature on the acquisition of person with the goal of distinguishing results that are specific to English from those with broad cross-linguistic support. The linguistic category of person expresses the grammatical distinction between the speaker of an utterance, the addressee of an utterance or another entity. Languages may add other distinctions to the expression of person, including gender, number, definiteness, focus, obviation, tense, aspect, mood and polarity. The expression of person may be realized by independent words, such as the pronouns in English, clitics, affixes, nominal classifiers or zero forms. We will survey the range of person expression in the world’s languages with the goal of understanding the problem of acquiring person expressions. We will also survey the acquisition literature in order to identify topics for future research on the acquisition of person.

      The seminar will consist of class discussions of the assigned readings and their implications for the acquisition of person. Each student will be responsible for leading the class discussion on a particular reading. In addition to the reading and class discussion each student is required to write a paper discussing the acquisition of some morphosyntactic feature. The paper might examine, for example, the relation between finiteness and argument expression in a specific language. The seminar will be organized as a workshop. Students will present a preliminary version of their paper in class, and refine their concepts through class discussion. They will then be asked to present a final revision of their paper that incorporates suggestions from the class and the instructor.


Ben Ambridge and Elena V. M. Lieven. 2011. Child Language Acquisition. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Anna Siewierska. 2004. Person. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.



Aug. 23

The typology of person forms

      Siewierska, Chap. 1: Introduction

      Siewierska, Chap. 2: The typology of person forms


Aug. 30

The typology of person forms

      Siewierska, Chap. 3: The structure of person paradigms


Sept. 6


      Siewierska, Chap. 4: Person agreement


Sept. 13

The acquisition of agreement

      Ambridge and Lieven, Chap. 5: Inflection


Sept. 20


      Siewierska, Chap. 5: The function of person forms


Sept. 27

The acquisition of binding

      Ambridge and Lieven, Chap. 8: Binding, quantification and control


Oct. 4

The acquisition of binding

       Chien and Wexler 1990

       Hsu, Cairns, Eisenberg and Schlisselberg 1989

      Matthews, Lieven, Theakston and Tomasello 2009


Oct. 11



Oct. 13

Interactions between tense and agreement

Wexler 1998. Very early parameter setting and the unique checking constraint. Lingua 106.23-79.


Oct. 18

The acquisition of clitics

      Haegeman 1998, Root infinitives, clitics and truncated structures

      Hamann, Rizzi and Frauenfelder 1998, On the acquisition of subject and object clitics in French


Oct. 25

Project presentations


Nov. 1

Binding and coreference

      Hamann 2011. Binding and coreference: views from child language. In J. de Villiers and T. Roeper (eds.), Handbook of Generative Approaches to Language Acquisition, Studies in Theoretical Psycholinguistics 41, 247-289. Springer.


Nov. 8

Explaining Ergativity

      Coon, J. 2014. Little-v0 Agreement and Templatic Morphology in Chol. ms. McGill University

      Preminger, Omer. 2013. Syntactic ergativity in Q’anjob’al. FAMLi.

      Pye, C. 2007. Explaining Ergativity. In Barbara Pfeiler (ed.), Learning indigenous languages: Child language acquisition in Mesoamerica, pp. 47-68. Hannover: Verlag für Ethnologie, Colección Americana X.

      Woolford, Ellen. 2000. Ergative agreement systems. The University of Maryland Working Papers in Linguistics 10.157-191.


Nov. 15

The Acquisition of Ergativity

      Pye, C. 1990. The Acquisition of Ergative Languages. Linguistics 28.1291-1330.

      Narasimhan, B. 2005. Splitting the notion of ‘agent’. J. of Child Language 32(4): 787-803.


Nov. 22

The Acquisition of Ergativity in Mayan Languages

       Brown, P., B. Pfeiler, L. de León and C. Pye. 2013. The acquisition of agreement in four Mayan languages. In E. L. Bavin and S. Stoll (Eds.), The Acquisition of Ergativity, 271-305. Amsterdam: John Benjamins.


Nov. 23

Thanksgiving break


Nov. 29

The Acquisition of Extended Ergativity

      Pye, C., B. Pfeiler and P. Mateo Pedro. 2013. The acquisition of extended ergativity in Mam, Q’anjob’al and Yucatec. In E. L. Bavin and S. Stoll (Eds.), The Acquisition of Ergativity, 307-335. Amsterdam: John Benjamins.


Dec. 6

Project presentations