The acquisition of Japanese case particles and the theory of case checking

Date of Completion

January 1998


Language, Linguistics|Psychology, Developmental|Psychology, Cognitive




This study was conducted to investigate whether children, regardless of adult input, show a similar pattern in their acquisition of Case particles. The children's data are from three sets of corpora, independently transcribed in the CHILDES format (MacWhinney and Snow 1990). The frequency of the three Case particles ga (the Nominative Case particle), o (the Accusative Case particle) and ni (the Dative Case particle) were analyzed and compared to the adult speech in the same corpora.^ It was found that the Case particle development follows a universal acquisition sequence across the three children: ga-ni/o. Data from the adult speech show that this sequence is not a result of parental input. Also, it was found that the Tense morphemes appear significantly before the first use of the Case-particles. The data are consistent with the assumption that the Case feature on an NP is licensed by functional heads (Chomsky 1995).^ When two arguments appear with a stative predicate, the Nominative particle ga can be used for both the subject and the object in adult speech. The children used only one Nominative Case-particle ga. This is consistent with the argument, in Ura (1996), that the availability of multiple-checking is a parametric option. The majority of the children's errors in the usage of the Case particles overall is the overuse of ga. This observation suggests that young children assume that the Nominative particle ga is the default Case in Japanese.^ Children's early use of the particle ni was also studied. It was observed that four types of ni emerged early and were frequently used throughout the corpora. These types of ni are argued to be proto-postpositions, which mark the physical location or the final physical location of the item as a result of the action described by the predicate. The fact that the ni in double object construction is acquired later than other types of the Case-particle ni is discussed as possible empirical support for the existence of a grammatical property which is relevant to the acquisition of small-clause constructions (Snyder and Stromswold 1997). ^