On the acquisition of clitic placement in restructuring

A study on monolingual Italian children



This study investigates the production of clitic pronouns by monolingual Italian children aged 4;9-10;11, using a sentence repetition task including sentences with one or two restructuring verbs. The main findings are as follows: (i) children were more accurate with proclitics than enclitics, (ii) in their reproductions, they sometimes changed the clitic position and most often resorted to clitic climbing, to either the highest verb (in 2-verb sentences) or the intermediate verb (in 3-verb sentences), (iii) some instances of clitic reduplication were found, with similar tendencies as placement changes, (iv) no difference was observed between modal and motion verbs. These results show that restructuring is fully available to children and they prefer to produce monoclausal structures (Rizzi 1976, 1978/82; Cinque 2004) despite the long dependency established by clitic climbing. This in turn means that children’s grammar is guided by Structural Economy, like adults’ grammar. Children however assumed that restructuring verbs may be lexical less often than adults. Children never produced clitic misplacement errors, replicating previous findings on monolingual acquisition.


restructuring, clitic climbing, acquisition, Italian, structural economy


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