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UBC Theses and Dissertations

The acquisition of the English auxiliary system and its relation to linguistic theory Davis, Henry


This thesis explores the connection between linguistic theory, as embodied in a version of the Government - Binding (GB) model of syntax, and the parameter-setting theory of language acquisition. In Chapter 2, it is argued that by incorporating the criterion of epistemological priority, syntactic theory can move closer towards becoming a plausible model of language acquisition. A version of GB theory is developed which adopts this criterion, leading to several modifications, including the derivation of X-bar theory from more "primitive" grammatical sub-components, and a revision of the Projection Principle. This model is converted into a procedure for phrase-structure acquisition, employing sets of Canonical Government Configurations and Percolation Principles to map Case- and θ-relations onto phrase-structure trees. The chapter ends with a discussion of the "missing-subject" stage in the acquisition of English. Chapter 3 concerns auxiliaries. It is argued that parametric variation in auxiliary systems can be reduced to levels of association between INFL and V. The question of irregularity is dealt with through the Designation Convention of Emonds (1985), which makes a distinction between open- and closed- class grammatical elements, and a Parallel Distributed Processing model of learning. The last part of the chapter investigates the learning of the English auxiliary system, and in particular the errors known as "auxiliary overmarking". Chapter 4 investigates the syntax of Subject Auxiliary Inversion (SAI)-type rules. An account of inversion is developed based on the theory of predication, in which inversion-inducing elements are treated as "A'-type" subjects which must be linked to AGR in order to satisfy conditions on Predicate-licensing. A parametrization is developed based on the cross-linguistic examination of SAI-type rules. Chapter 5 concerns the acquisition of SAI. It is argued that there are no invariant "stages" in the development of inversion; rather, a proportion of children misanalyze (WH + contracted auxiliary) sequences as (WH + AGR-clitic) sequences and formulate grammars in which SAI is unnecessary. A "two-tiered" theory of syntactic acquisition is proposed to account for the observed developmental patterns.

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