The timing of production

On the acquisition of Italian prepositions


  • Emanuela Sanfelici University of Padua
  • Camilla Gallina University of Padua


This paper investigates the acquisition of prepositions in Italian looking at children’s early spontaneous speech. With a longitudinal study on the production of seven Italian-speaking children aged 1;7 to 3;4, we sought to determine the timing in which different prepositional items emerged in children’s speech. Following much acquisition research, the order of emergence is assumed to reveal how syntax develops during acquisition (Rizzi, 1993/1994; Pérez-Leroux & al., 2012; Friedmann, Belletti, & Rizzi, 2020). Our analysis revealed that children produced different prepositional items at different stages. Adverbial prepositions, i.e., prepositions lacking a lexicalized complement, were produced in an order following the semantic feature hierarchy proposed in Clark (1972). The development of prepositional items with a lexicalized complement was consistent with the geometry of the syntactic tree proposed in the cartographic literature (Cinque, 2010). Interestingly, our results are in line with previous findings on French and Spanish (Morgenstern & Sekali, 2009; Stewart 2015) but diverge from those reported for English (Littlefield, 2009). In this respect, the development of prepositions patterns alike with the acquisition of other functional morphemes that differentiates morphologically rich languages from those with a poorer functional inventory.



acquisition, preposition, Italian, functional morphemes, emergence


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