Let's change the subject: focus movement in early grammar

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Universal Grammar (UG) allows a multitude of devices that can be drawn on to express focus. The child's task is to reconcile the possible UG options with the positive data provided by the target language. In English, except for the cleft structure, focus is indicated by word stress. I argue that some children initially hypothesize that focus is signaled by syntactic movement. The empirical evidence in favor of this argument comes from a longitudinal diary data from one child, A.L., from age 1;9 to 2;4. In contexts in which the subject of the sentence receives either contrastive or emphatic focus, A.L. produces utterances like “You're do it,” or “I'm do it.” The nominative pronoun and an agreeing form of be are claimed to be moved to a position of focus in the phrase structure. Further, the first-person utterances like “I'm do it” are preceded by utterances with the form “My do it” in the same contexts. This leads to the proposal that my is a metathesized form of I'm, not a genitive pronoun as claimed in previous literature. As a consequence, subjects bearing genitive case are claimed not to exist in child English.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)229-271
Number of pages43
JournalLanguage Acquisition
Issue number3
Publication statusPublished - 2002
Externally publishedYes


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