Not all complementisers are late

A first look at the acquisition of illocutionary complementisers in Catalan and Spanish



This paper analyses the emergence of illocutionary complementisers (in the sense of Corr 2016, 2022) through a corpus study with Catalan and Spanish children. The production of illocutionary complementisers by ten Catalan- and Spanish-speaking children in the CHILDES database is quantified and compared to the production of finite embedding complementisers. The results indicate that illocutionary complementisers emerge early in the child production data, often well before embedding complementisers first appear. These preliminary findings, which illustrate important developmental differences between kinds of complementisers, are hard to account for in approaches that take functional categories to mature bottom-up, with left-peripheral knowledge developing last. I argue, instead, that the early emergence of illocutionary complementisers favours a view which takes the C-domain to be present early on in child grammars. I finish by considering the development of Italo-Romance complementisers as a future direction, suggesting that a deeper analysis of child ‘errors’ or input-divergent utterances may provide significant insights into the theoretical questions presented, as much as grammatical ones.


syntax, acquisition, illocutionary complementisers, Catalan, Spanish, Ibero-Romance


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