The Acquisition of Inflection in Q’anjob’al Maya

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Most studies on the acquisition of verbal inflection have examined languages with a single verb suffix. This book offers a study on the acquisition of verb inflections in Q’anjob’al Maya. Q’anjob’al has separate inflections for aspect, subject and object agreement, and status suffixes. The subject and object inflections display a split ergative pattern. The subjects of intransitive verbs with aspect markers take absolutive markers, whereas the subjects of aspectless intransitive verbs take ergative markers. The acquisition of three types of clauses is explored in detail (imperatives, indicatives, and aspectless complements). The data come from longitudinal spontaneous speech of three monolingual Q’anjob’al children aged 1;8–3;5. This book contributes unique data to the debate on the acquisition of finite and non-finite verbs as well as adding to our understanding of the acquisition of split ergative patterns. The book is of interest to researchers and students working on linguistics and language acquisition.
[Trends in Language Acquisition Research, 14]  2015.  xiii, 144 pp.
Publishing status: Available
Table of Contents
Acknowledgements
xi–xii
Abbreviations
xiii–xiv
Chapter 1. Introduction
1–30
Chapter 2. Theoretical background
31–46
Chapter 3. Methodology
47–56
Chapter 4. Acquisition of intransitive verbs
57–82
Chapter 5. Acquisition of transitive verbs
83–112
Chapter 6. Phonological effects and word order
113–122
Chapter 7. General conclusions
123–132
References
133–142
Index
143–144
“This book represents an important contribution to first language acquisition studies by presenting a detailed investigation of the acquisition of the Mayan language Q'anjob'al. Based on fieldwork in Guatemala, this meticulous study brings to the field a wealth of new data from an understudied language. Q'anjob'al is of special interest because of its split ergative agreement system and complex verb morphology. Mateo Pedro expertly traces the course of acquisition of subject and object agreement, transitivity marking, and aspect morphology and highlights the role of phonology in the acquisition of morphology and syntax. The book is of interest not only to Mayanists, but to those engaged in first language acquisition research in general because Mateo Pedro uses the Q'anjob'al data to evaluate several theories of first language acquisition that are on the market. The theoretical conclusions are supported by quantitative measures. This book will serve as a stepping-off point for future studies in the acquisition of Mayan languages.”
“This is a landmark work in Mayan linguistics and in the study of morphological acquisition. Mateo Pedro has collected an impressively rich data set on the acquisition of verbal inflection in Q'anjob'al, drawn from a diverse array of clause types. The book deftly synthesizes data, analysis, and theory, bringing novel Mayan data to bear on more general debates in the field of language development. This work represents a substantial contribution to the comparatively small (but growing) literature on language acquisition in non-Indo-European languages.”
The Acquisition of inflection in Q’anjob’al, a Mayan language spoken in Guatemala, by Pedro Mateo Pedro offers a new window into the acquisition of the functional lexicon (agreement, person, aspect) in a language with a rich morphosyntactic system and split ergativity. It shows that in spite of the complexity of the system, children already possess some knowledge of it at age 2;0, and selectively omit some inflectional morphemes. Mateo Pedro not only contributes new longitudinal data from a neglected language and a detailed analysis of them, but also discusses them against the background of studies on other Mayan languages, providing a very insightful and comprehensive description. Finally, he shows how his data contribute to our advancement of knowledge by challenging current models of children’s acquisition of inflection. Anyone who wants to understand language acquisition and come to the right generalization has to broaden her/his perspectives and become acquainted with the rich variety of linguistic systems that children can face. This book is of great import in this direction.”
The Acquisition of Inflection in Q’anjob’al Maya by Pedro Mateo Pedro establishes a new direction for research on language acquisition. Verb inflection in Q’anjob’al is significant for its system of extended ergative subject marking. Intransitive verbs in aspect-marked contexts have absolutive subject markers whereas intransitive verbs in aspectless contexts have ergative subject markers. Children must distinguish between these different contexts of complementation in order to acquire person marking in Q’anjob’al successfully. Mateo Pedro shows how Q’anjob’al children acquire the different parts of the Q’anjob’al verb complex in a coordinated fashion. Readers will gain an understanding of how acquisition proceeds in a polysynthetic language and its implications for acquisition theory.”
“Mateo Pedro’s study is unique in many ways. It is the most thorough study of the acquisition of inflection in a Mayan language, since most research has focused primarily on inflection in indicative clauses. Methodologically, this study is based on one of the richest longitudinal databases of child acquisition in an indigenous minority language. Lastly, Mateo Pedro's findings are meticulously tested against current theoretical models about early inflection acquisition, revealing the power of the “Right-Edge Principle” in accounting for early Mayan acquisition.”
The Acquisition of Inflection in Q’anjob’al Maya is an excellent example of the insights that can be gained by testing existing theoretical approaches to acquisition on less familiar languages––in this case, the rich inflectional system of Q’anjob’al. Through careful longitudinal studies of three Q’anjob’al-speaking children, Pedro Mateo Pedro combines careful empirical description and documentation with new theoretical insights. This book will be of great value to scholars in the areas of acquisition, Mayan linguistics, and experimental work on understudied languages more generally.”
“Pedro Mateo Pedro’s important book adds to the growing body of work on L1 acquisition of Mayan languages. This careful study of the acquisition of Q'anjob'al verb inflection brings findings from a morphologically complex, split-ergative language to bear on theories of morpheme omission in early child language. Mateo Pedro shows a significant role for phonology in morpheme omission, and demonstrates that current theories based on morphological or syntactic simplification are inadequate. Clearly, many more studies of exactly this kind, on typologically diverse languages, are needed if we are to reach an understanding of how children acquire language.”
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Subjects
BIC Subject: CFK – Grammar, syntax
BISAC Subject: LAN009000 – LANGUAGE ARTS & DISCIPLINES / Linguistics / General
U.S. Library of Congress Control Number:  2015016587