A comparison of Norwegian and Spanish L1 acquisition of possessive constructions

  • Antonio FábregasEmail author
  • Merete Anderssen
  • Marit Westergaard
Original Paper


In language acquisition studies, there is a recurring debate regarding how to account for non-target-consistent utterances produced by young children. Anderssen and Westergaard (Lingua 120:2569–2588, 2010) study the acquisition of Norwegian possessives, which may be pre- or postnominal, and find that children overuse prenominal possessives, even though they are considerably less frequent than postnominal ones in the input. The current study investigates Spanish possessive structures, which may also appear with two word orders, and finds that postnominal possessives are occasionally overused by young children, even though they are extremely low in frequency (3%). In this article, we discuss two possible explanations for the non-target-consistent behavior of Norwegian and Spanish children, related to economy of syntactic movement and the nature of the possessives themselves in terms of strong/weak pronouns or clitics.


Possessives Spanish Norwegian Frequency Complexity Economy 


Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.

Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.



The authors are thankful to the editors of this special issue and to three anonymous reviewers for comments and suggestions that have greatly improved the final version. All disclaimers apply.


  1. Aguado-Orea, Javier, and Julián M. Pine. 2015. Comparing different models of the development of verb inflection in early child Spanish. PLoS ONE 10: e0119613. Scholar
  2. Aguirre, Carmen. 2000. La adquisición de las categorías gramaticales en español. Madrid: Ediciones de la Universidad Autónoma de Madrid.Google Scholar
  3. Anderssen, Merete. 2006. The acquisition of compositional definiteness in Norwegian. Ph.D. dissertation, University of Tromsø.Google Scholar
  4. Anderssen, Merete. 2007. The acquisition of compositional definiteness. In Papers from the language acquisition workshop, SCL 2006, Nordlyd 34, ed. Merete Anderssen and Marit Westergaard, 252–275. Tromsø: Septentrio.Google Scholar
  5. Anderssen, Merete. 2012. A spanning approach to the acquisition of definiteness in Norwegian. Iberia: An International Journal of Theoretical Linguistics 4: 1–34.Google Scholar
  6. Anderssen, Merete, and Marit Westergaard. 2010. Frequency and economy in the acquisition of variable word order. Lingua 120: 2569–2588.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  7. Anderssen, Merete, Kristine Bentzen, and Yulia Rodina. 2012. Topicality and complexity in the acquisition of Norwegian Object Shift. Language Acquisition 19: 39–72.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  8. Anderssen, Merete, Kristine Bentzen, Yulia Rodina, and Marit Westergaard. 2010. The acquisition of apparent optionality: The word order of subject- and object- shift constructions in Norwegian. In Variation in the input: Studies on the acquisition of word order. [Studies in theoretical psycholinguistics 39], ed. Merete Anderssen, Kristine Bentzen, and Marit Westergaard, 240–270. Dordrecht: Springer.Google Scholar
  9. Anderssen, Merete, Yulia Rodina, Roksolana Mykhaylyk, and Paula Fikkert. 2014. The acquisition of the dative alternation in Norwegian. Language Acquisition 21: 72–102.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  10. Borer, Hagit, and Ken Wexler. 1987. The maturation of syntax. In Parameter setting, ed. Thomas Roeper and Edwin Williams, 123–172. Dordrecht: Springer.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  11. Borer, Hagit, and Ken Wexler. 1992. Bi-unique relations and the maturation of grammatical principles. Natural Language & Linguistic Theory 10: 147–189.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  12. Börjars, Kersti. 1998. Feature distribution in Swedish noun phrases. Oxford: Blackwell.Google Scholar
  13. Bresnan, Joan. 2001. The emergence of the unmarked pronoun. In Optimality-theoretic syntax, ed. Géraldine Legendre, Joan Grimshaw, and Sten Vikner, 113–142. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.Google Scholar
  14. Brucart, José María. 1994. Sobre una incompatibilidad entre posesivos y relativas especificativas. In Gramática del español, ed. Violeta Demonte, 51–86. México: Colegio de México.Google Scholar
  15. Cardinaletti, Anna, and Michal Starke. 1999. The typology of structural deficiency. A case study of the three classes of pronouns. In Clitics in the Languages of Europe, ed. Henk van Riemsdijk, 145–233. Berlin: De Gruyter.Google Scholar
  16. Chomsky, Noam. 2013. Problems of projection. Lingua 130: 33–49.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  17. Cinque, Guglielmo. 1993. A null theory of phrase and compound stress. Linguistic Inquiry 24: 239–297.Google Scholar
  18. Clahsen, Harald, Martina Penke, and Teresa Parodi. 1993. Functional categories in early child German. Language Acquisition 3: 395–429.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  19. Clahsen, Harald, Sonja Eisenbeiss, and Martina Penke. 1996. Lexical learning in early syntactic development. In Generative perspectives on language acquisition: Empirical findings, theoretical considerations and crosslinguistic comparisons, ed. Harald Clahsen, 129–159. Amsterdam: Benjamins.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  20. de Alba, Moreno, and G. José. 2001. El español en América. México: FCE.Google Scholar
  21. Delsing, Lars-Olof. 1993. The internal structure of noun phrases in the Scandinavian languages, Ph.D. dissertation, University of Lund.Google Scholar
  22. Duffield, Nigel. 2008. Roots and Rogues in German child language. Language Acquisition 15: 225–269.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  23. Eguren, Luis. 1989. Algunos datos del español en favor de la frase determinante. Revista Argentina de Lingüística 5: 163–203.Google Scholar
  24. Eguren, Luis. 2017. Possessives and relative clauses in Spanish. Probus 29: 41–72.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  25. Faarlund, Jan Terje. 2009. On the history of definiteness marking in Scandinavian. Journal of Linguistics 45: 617–639.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  26. Haegeman, Liliane. 1996. Root infinitives, clitics and truncated structures. Language Acquisition and Language Disorders 14: 271–308.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  27. Hamann, Cornelia, Luigi Rizzi, and Uli H. Frauenfelder. 1995. On the acquisition of subject and object clitics in French. In Grammaire univeselle et acquisition du langage, ed. Celia Jakubowicz, 83–101. Vincennes, France: Recherches Universitaires de Vincennes.Google Scholar
  28. Huerta Flores, Norohella. 2009. Los posesivos. In Sintaxis histórica de la lengua española. La frase nominal, ed. Concepción Company, 609–759. México: UNAM.Google Scholar
  29. Ihsane, Tabea. 2003. A typology of possessive modifiers. In From NP to DP, ed. Martine Coene and Yves D’Hulst, 23–42. Amsterdam: John Benjamins.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  30. Jakubowicz, Celia, Natascha Müller, Ok-Kyung Kang, Beate Riemer, and Catherine Rigaut. 1996. On the acquisition of pronominal system in French and German. In Proceedings of the 20th annual Boston University conference on language development [BUCLD 20], ed. Andy Stringfellow, Dalia Cahana-Amitay, Elizabeth Hughes, and Andrea Zukowski, 23–42. Somerville, MA: Cascadilla Press.Google Scholar
  31. Julien, Marit. 2002. Determiners and word order in Scandinavian nominal phrases. Studia Linguistica 56: 265–315.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  32. Julien, M. 2005. Nominal phrases from a Scandinavian perspective [Linguistics Today 87]. Amsterdam: John Benjamins.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  33. Kester, Ellen-Petra. 1993. The inflectional properties of Scandinavian adjectives. Studia Linguistica 47: 139–153.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  34. Kester, Ellen-Petra. 1996. The nature of adjectival inflection, Ph.D. dissertation, OTS Dissertation Series, Utrecht.Google Scholar
  35. Lahiri, Aditi, Allison Wetterlin, and Elisabet Jönsson-Steiner. 2005. Lexical specification of tone in North Germanic. Nordic Journal of Linguistics 28: 61–96.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  36. Leonetti, Manuel. 1999. Los determinantes. Madrid: Arco Libros.Google Scholar
  37. Linaza, José L., María E. Sebastián, and Cristina del Barrio. 1981. Lenguaje, comunicación y comprensión. La adquisición del lenguaje. Monografía de Infancia y Aprendizaje 1: 195–198.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  38. Lleó, Conxita. 2001. The interface of phonology and syntax: The emergence of the article in the early acquisition of Spanish and German. Language Acquisition and Language Disorders 24: 23–44.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  39. Llinàs-Grau, Mireia, and Ana Ojea. 2000. Transcripts of corpus for Project BFF2000-0504. Ms. Universitat Autònoma de Barcelona.Google Scholar
  40. Lødrup, Helge. 2009. Norwegian possessive pronouns: phrases, words or suffixes? In Proceedings of the LFG11 conference, ed. Miriam Butt and Tracy Holloway King, 383–403. Stanford: CSLI Publications.Google Scholar
  41. Lødrup, Helge. 2012. Forholdet mellom prenominale og postnominale possessive uttrykk. [The relationship between prenominal and postnominal possessive expressions]. In Grammatikk, bruk og norm [grammar, use and norm], ed. Hans-Olav Enger, Jan Terje Faarlund, and Kjell Ivar Vannebo, 189–203. Oslo: Novus.Google Scholar
  42. MacWhinney, Brian. 2000. The CHILDES project: Tools for analyzing talk, 3rd ed. Mahwah, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates.Google Scholar
  43. Mykhaylyk, Roksolana, and Heejeong Ko. 2010. Optional scrambling is not random: Evidence from Ukrainian acquisition. In Variation in the Input: Studies on the acquisition of word order [Studies in theoretical psycholinguistics 39], ed. Merete Anderssen, Kristine Bentzen, and Marit Westergaard, 207–239. Dordrecht: Springer Verlag.Google Scholar
  44. Mykhaylyk, Roksolana, Yulia Rodina, and Merete Anderssen. 2013. Ditransitive constructions in Russian and Ukrainian: The effect of givenness. Lingua 137: 271–289.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  45. Nieva, Silvia. 2013. Función de la estructura del diálogo en la transición de una a dos palabras. Doctoral dissertation, Universidad Complutense de Madrid.Google Scholar
  46. Phillips, Colin. 2010. Syntax at age two: Cross-linguistic differences. Language Acquisition 17: 70–120.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  47. Picallo, Carme, and Gemma Rigau. 1999. El posesivo y las relaciones posesivas. In Gramática descriptiva de la lengua española, dirs, ed. Ignacio Bosque and Violeta Demonte, 973–1025. Madrid: Espasa.Google Scholar
  48. Poeppel, David, and Kenneth Wexler. 1993. The full competence hypothesis of clause structure in early German. Language 69: 1–33.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  49. RAE [Real Academia Española]. 2009. Nueva gramática de la lengua española. Madrid: Espasa.Google Scholar
  50. Radford, Andrew. 1990. Syntactic theory and the acquisition of English syntax: The nature of early child grammars of English. London: Blackwell.Google Scholar
  51. Radford, Andrew. 1996. Towards a structure-building model of acquisition. Language acquisition and language disorders 14: 43–90.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  52. Rizzi, Luigi. 1993. Some notes on linguistic theory and language development: the case of root infinitives. Language Acquisition 3 (4): 371–393.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  53. Roca, Francesc. 2009. The left periphery of nominal constructions and the evolution of definite determiners in Romance. In Diachronic linguistics, ed. Joan Rafel, 495–551. Girona: Documenta Universitaria.Google Scholar
  54. Roehrs, Dorian. 2009. Demonstratives and definite articles as nominal auxiliaries [Linguistics Today 140]. Amsterdam/Philadephia: John Benjamins.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  55. Santelmann, Lynn. 1993. The Distribution of double determiners in Swedish: den support in D0. Studia Linguistica 47: 154–176.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  56. Schaeffer, Jeanette. 2000. The acquisition of direct object scrambling and clitic placement. Amsterdam/Philadelphia: John Benjamins.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  57. Simonenko, Alexandra. 2011. Spellout and double determination in Mainland Scandinavian. University of Pennsylvania Working Papers in Linguistics 17: 205–214.Google Scholar
  58. Snyder, William. 2007. Child language: The parametric approach. Oxford: Oxford University Press.Google Scholar
  59. Svenonius, Peter. 1994. The structural location of the attributive adjective. In Proceedings of the twelfth west coast conference of formal linguistics, 439–54. Stanford, California: CSLI.Google Scholar
  60. Taraldsen, Knut T. 1990. D-projections and N-projections in Norwegian. In Grammar in progress, ed. Joan Mascaró and Marina Nespor, 419–431. Dordrecht: Foris.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  61. Ticio, Emma. 2003. On the structure of DPs. PhD dissertation, University of Connecticut.Google Scholar
  62. Tsakali, Vina, and Kenneth Wexler. 2004. Why children omit clitics in some languages but not in others: new evidence from Greek. In Proceedings of GALA 2003, 493–504. Utrecht: Utrecht University.Google Scholar
  63. Unsworth, Sharon. 2005. Child L1, child L2 and adult L2 acquisition: Differences and similarities. A study on the acquisition of direct object scrambling in Dutch. Doctoral dissertation, Utrecht University.Google Scholar
  64. Vangsnes, Øystein A. 1999. The identification of functional architecture. Doctoral dissertation, University of Bergen.Google Scholar
  65. Westergaard, Marit. 2009. The acquisition of word order: Micro-cues, information structure and economy [Linguistik Aktuell/Linguistics Today 145]. Amsterdam: John Benjamins.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  66. Westergaard, Marit. 2011. Subject positions and information structure: The effect of frequency on acquisition and change. Studia Linguistica 3: 299–332.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  67. Westergaard, Marit. 2014. Linguistic variation and micro-cues in first language acquisition. Linguistic Variation 14 (1): 26–45.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  68. Westergaard, Marit, and Kristine Bentzen. 2007. The (non-) effect of input frequency on the acquisition of word order in Norwegian embedded clauses. In Frequency effects in language acquisition: Defining the limits of frequency as an explanatory concept, [Studies on language acquisition], ed. Insa Gülzow and Natalia Gagarina, 271–306. Berlin/New York: Mouton de Gruyter.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  69. Westergaard, Marit, and Merete Anderssen. 2015. Word order variation in Norwegian possessive constructions: Bilingual acquisition and attrition. In Germanic heritage languages in North America: Acquisition, attrition and change [Studies in language variation], eds. Janne Bondi Johannessen and Joe Salmons, 21–45. Amsterdam: John Benjamins.Google Scholar
  70. Wexler, Kenneth. 1998. Very early parameter setting and the unique checking constraint: a new explanation of the optional infinitive stage. In Language acquisition: Knowledge representation and processing, special issue of Lingua, ed. Antonella Sorace, Caroline Heycock, and Richard Shillock, 23–79. Amsterdam: Elsevier.Google Scholar
  71. Wexler, Kenneth, Anna Gavarrò, and Vicent Torrens. 2004. Feature checking and object clitic omission in child Catalan and Spanish. In Selected papers from going Romance 2002, [Current issues in linguistic theory 256], ed. Reineke Bok-Bennema, Bart Hollebrandse, Brigitte Kampers-Manhe, and Petra Sleeman, 253–269. Amsterdam: John Benjamins.CrossRefGoogle Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer Nature B.V. 2019

Authors and Affiliations

  • Antonio Fábregas
    • 1
    Email author
  • Merete Anderssen
    • 1
  • Marit Westergaard
    • 1
    • 2
  1. 1.Department of Language and Culture, Faculty of Humanities, Social Sciences and EducationUiT-The Arctic University of NorwayTromsøNorway
  2. 2.Department of Language and Literature, Faculty of HumanitiesNTNU – Norwegian University of Science and TechnologyTrondheimNorway

Personalised recommendations