Subject use and the acquisition of verbal agreement in Hebrew

  • Sharon Armon-Lotem
Part of the Studies in Theoretical Psycholinguistics book series (SITP, volume 33)

This paper presents an analysis of the early use of verbal morphology and overt subjects in Hebrew before the age of two, and the way in which the two processes interact, leading to some agreement mismatches. In Hebrew (Armon-Lotem 1996a), the acquisition of aspect and tense morphology is interrelated with the acquisition of agreement morphology, in a way that supports proposals for a bottom-up acquisition of phrase markers (Vainikka and Young- Scholten 1996). Specifically, children’s use of verbs in an aspectually limited manner (e.g., telic verbs only with past tense morphology and atelic verbs only with present tense morphology) is followed by the use of agreement markers for gender and number, then by the appropriate use of tense morphology and finally by the use of agreement markers for person. In subject position, children use bare nouns and proper names as overt subjects only after they use aspect, but before they have subject verb agreement in gender and number. Similarly, they use pronouns after they use tense and before they use person agreement. This order results in agreement mismatches. In a framework where heads are obligatory, specifiers are optional, and agreement is not a head but rather the mere syntactic relation between the two (Chomsky 1995), this head > spec > agreement > head > spec > agreement order is predicted. Specifically, assuming that there are no Agr nodes, Asp is specified with gender and number spec-features and T is specified with person spec-features. The paper addresses the question which bootstrapping strategies children use in acquiring these features. Children first use the Aspect head, next the appropriate specifier, and then apply the syntactic operation of spec-head agreement resulting in agreement in gender and number. Later, when the semantically motivated functional head T is acquired, pronouns emerge in its specifier, and spec-head agreement in person applies. Thus, the interaction between the early use of verbal morphology and the early use of subjects can be accounted for by the “no Agr nodes” approach.


Functional Head Verbal Morphology Bare Noun Nominal Phrase Morphosyntactic Feature 
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Copyright information

© Springer 2008

Authors and Affiliations

  • Sharon Armon-Lotem
    • 1
  1. 1.Bar-Ilan UniversityIsrael

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