The syntax and acquisition of verbal inflection

Date of Completion

January 2001


Language, Linguistics




This thesis presents an analysis of verbal inflection which takes the formal features of verbs as the mechanism which drives clausal structure. My analysis is based on a modification of Lasnik (1994) in order to account for a new type of English data which I call What About Answers. The resulting account entails that English clause structure has one inflectional node, which can be either an TAf or Agr. Cross-linguistically, languages can have universally allowed combinations of TAf, T+F and Agr. ^ In order for children to acquire the verbal morphology of their language, they must answer the following questions: Does my language have tense, Does my language have agreement, Is T affixal or featural in my language, For each verb class, is it lexically inflected or bare? I predict that children will answer the first two questions before the second two, and that they will not produce overt morphology without knowing the relevant syntactic features. ^ Further, children will determine all the relevant properties of a category before moving on to another. In order to empirically study these issues, I introduce a new methodology for studying children's spontaneous production data: including detailed Contextual Information (CI) in transcript data. I demonstrate that this method allows us to identify the utterances relevant to these predictions, and in the resulting study, my predictions are borne out. This study also has implications for the study of Root Infinitives in English and cross-linguistically. ^