The acquisition of syntax in Romance languages

The acquisition of syntax in Romance languages. Ed. by Vincent Torrens and Linda Escobar. Amsterdam: John Benjamins, 2006. Pp. 421. ISBN 9789027253019. $150 (Hb).

Reviewed by Lara Reglero, Florida State University

This book is a collection of selected papers presented at ‘The Romance Turn’, a workshop on first and second language acquisition held in Madrid in 2004. The book is divided into five parts: Part 1, ‘Clitics, determiners and pronouns’; Part 2, ‘Verbs, auxiliaries and inflection’; Part 3, ‘Movement and resumptive pronouns’; Part 4, ‘Syntax/discourse interface’; and Part 5, ‘L2 acquisition’. All of the papers adopt a generative approach to the study of language acquisition.

Part 1 opens with ‘The production of SE and SELF anaphors in Spanish and Dutch children’ by Sergio Baauw, Marieke Kuipers, Esther Ruigendijk, and Fernando Cuetos, who show that Spanish children perform like adults on se anaphors but have difficulty with self anaphors, in contrast to Dutch children, who exhibit exactly the opposite behavior. In ‘On the acquisition of ambiguous valency-marking morphemes: Insights from the acquisition of French SE’, Isabelle Barrière and Marjorie Perlman Lorch propose a modified version of the maturation hypothesis to explain the order of acquisition of French se and related constructions. Anna Gavarró, Ana Teresa Pérez-Leroux, and Thomas Roeper’s ‘Definite and bare noun contrasts in child Catalan’ examines the acquisition of definites and bare nouns in child Catalan from a semantic perspective. In ‘Null arguments in monolingual children: A comparison of Italian and French’, Natasha Müller, Katrin Shmitz, Katja Cantone, and Tanja Kupisch account for the differences in the acquisition of object clitics in child French and Italian by proposing different licensing strategies for each language. Maren Pannemann explores crosslinguistic interaction in the bilingual acquisition of determiners and adjectives in ‘Prenominal elements in French-Germanic bilingual first language acquisition: Evidence for cross-linguistic influence’.

In Part 2, Claudia Caprin and Maria Teresa Guasti’s ‘A cross-sectional study on the use of “be” in early Italian’ analyzes the different omission rates of copula and auxiliary ‘be’ in child Italian. In ‘Patterns of copula omission in Italian child language’, Elisa Franchi investigates the omission rates of the Italian copula in declarative contexts and their absence in wh-contexts. In ‘Looking for the universal core of the RI stage’, Manola Salustri and Nina Hyams propose that the imperative is the equivalent of the RI stage in null subject languages. Vincent Torrens, Linda Escobar, and Kenneth Wexler’s ‘The acquisition of experiencers in Spanish L1 and the external argument requirement hypothesis’ explores the difficulties Spanish-speaking children exhibit with the acquisition of psych verbs that do not project a subject as their external argument. Jacqueline van Kampen studies how tense/agreement omission and root peripheral truncation relate in ‘Early operators and late topic-drop/pro-drop’.

Elaine Grolla’s‘The acquisition of A- and A′-bound pronouns in Brazilian Portuguese’ opens Part 3 by providing a unified analysis for the acquisition of pronominal elements in Brazilian Portuguese. In ‘Acquiring long-distance wh-questions in L1 Spanish: A longitudinal investigation’, María Junkal Guiérrez Mangado accounts for the nonadult constructions produced by a Spanish-speaking child while acquiring long-distance wh-questions. Magda Oiry and Hamida Demirdache argue in their article, ‘Evidence from L1 acquisition for the syntax of wh-scope marking in French’, that French-speaking children use nonadult scope marking strategies to produce long-distance questions.

In Part 4, João Costa and Kriszta Szendröi’s ‘Acquisition of focus marking in European Portuguese: Evidence for a unified approach to focus’ explores whether children can distinguish between syntactic and prosodic marking of focus in European Portuguese. In ‘Subject pronouns in bilinguals: Interface or maturation?’, Manuela Pinto investigates the acquisition of subject pronouns by two Dutch-Italian bilinguals.

In Part 5, Claudia Borgonovo, Joyce Bruhn de Garavito, and Philippe Prévost’s ‘Is the semantics/syntax interface vulnerable in L2 acquisition? Focus on mood distinctions clauses in L2 Spanish’ shows that interface phenomena can be acquired, at least in the domain of the interpretation of DPs marked by mood in Spanish. In ‘The development of the syntax-discourse interface: Greek learners of Spanish’, Cristóbal Lozano argues that L2 learners’ difficulties with discursive focus are due to a deficit with the uninterpretable [focus] feature. Finally, in ‘Beyond the syntax of the null subject parameter: A look at the discourse-pragmatic distribution of null and overt subjects by L2 learners of Spanish’, Silvina Montrul and Celeste Rodríguez Louro examine how L2 learners acquire the morphosyntactic and discourse-pragmatic aspects of Spanish subjects.

The acquisition of syntax in Romance languages provides an extensive and thorough collection of papers that will be of great interest to researchers working on any syntactic aspect of Romance language acquisition from a generative perspective.