Early acquisition of word order: evidence from Hindi-Urdu and Malayalam

Student thesis: Doctoral thesis


The acquisition of word order in two under-researched languages, Hindi-Urdu and Malayalam, is explored under the assumptions of Universal Grammar and Very Early Parameter Setting. The acquisition of the OV order was tested through an experiment that was conducted on 19-month old native Hindi- Urdu infants using a combination of the preferential-looking mode, the weird-word-order paradigm, and pseudo-verbs. The results showed that the infants parsed the grammatical SOV order and did not parse the ungrammatical VSO order, indicating that the parameter responsible for the OV order was set at 19 months of age. The acquisition of scrambling was investigated by means of three experiments in Malayalam speaking children. The first experiment tested the acquisition of the canonical word order SOV, and the scrambled non-canonical word orders OSV, OVS, and SVO, with no discourse context, through a picture matching task in children aged 3 to 5-years-old. The experimental results showed above chance performance in the comprehension of the canonical and most scrambled word orders by all age groups. The second experiment tested the acquisition of the canonical and the non-canonical word orders with a discourse context, in an act-out task in 2-year-old children. The results revealed at ceiling performance by all children. The third experiment, run with 2-year-old children, tested the acquisition of canonical and scrambled sentences with an anaphor. All children performed above chance indicating that anaphor resolution is adult like. Usage-based theories and the implications of the theory of Relativized Minimality in child grammar are critically analyzed using the results of the Hindi-Urdu and Malayalam experiments. The evidence gathered is in support of the fact that adult-like competence of abstract syntax is present within child grammar at early ages and that movement appears to be adult-like.
Date of Award22 Sept 2016
Original languageEnglish
SupervisorAnna Gavarró Algueró (Director)

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