Speculations About Early Syntax: The Production of Wh-questions by Normally Developing French Children and French Children with SLI

Cornelia Hamann

Abstract

This paper examines the spontaneous (and elicited) production of questions in 3 typically developing French children (1;8-2;10) and 11 French children with SLI (3;10-9;1). French has three types of constituent questions (Wh-in-situ, fronted Wh without inversion, fronted Wh with inversion) graded in syntactic complexity, allowing detailed investigation of syntactic competence.
The results show that both groups of children greatly prefer Wh-in-situ over fronted Wh and avoid inversion. Infinitives are extremely rare in all questions, whereas null subjects are rare in fronted Wh-questions but occur in in-situ questions in typically developing children. SLI children do not produce infinitives in Wh-questions, but allow null subjects in all question types. The elicitation experiment confirmed these trends, though the SLI children had significantly more difficulties with movement than the normal children.
A tentative account uses the truncation approach and the assumption that young children avoid movement by deriving in-situ questions with a Q-element in the head position of an Interrogative Phrase entering into an Agree relation with the element left in-situ. SLI children might extend this economic analysis to all Wh-questions.

Keywords

French questions, fronted Wh, Wh-in-situ, syntactic complexity, infinitives, null subjects, movement, economic, typically developing children, SLI children

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Copyright (c) 2006 Cornelia Hamann