THE ACQUISITION OF VERB INFLECTION IN Q'ANJOB'AL MAYA: A LONGITUDINAL STUDY
University of Kansas
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Most first language acquisition studies have shown that children frequently omit verb inflections in matrix clauses (e.g. Brown, 1973). This dissertation investigates the acquisition of verb inflection in imperative, indicative, nominalized, and dependent clauses in Q'anjob'al, a Mayan language spoken in Guatemala, the southern part of Mexico, and the United States. The dissertation analyzes original and longitudinal child data from three Q'anjob'al-speaking children (ages 1;9-3;1), who were recorded in the community of Santa Eulalia, Huehuetenango, Guatemala. Each type of clause has a specific verb inflection. In indicative clauses, the verb is inflected for aspect, agreement, and status; in nominalized contexts, intransitive verbs take ergative morphemes instead of absolutive morphemes, while transitive verbs take the suffix -on and the suffix -i instead of the transitive status suffixes -v'/-j. In this clause type, intransitive and transitive verbs lack aspect marking. Dependent and imperative verbs take only a status suffix. The imperative form for intransitive verbs, unlike the dependent form, maintains the imperative status suffix in non-final and final positions. Since the imperative form for intransitive verbs has only a single inflection that does not change with position, it is the simplest form, and the one form that children might acquire early and overextend to indicative, nominalized, and dependent clauses with intransitive and transitive verbs. Analyses of the children's frequency of use in obligatory contexts, verb forms, and inflectional productivity show that while Q'anjob'al children optionally omit inflections on verbs in indicative clauses as shown in other Mayan languages, they produce distinct verb inflections in imperative, indicative, nominalized, and dependent clauses. The frequency analysis shows that these children acquire status suffixes before aspect and agreement prefixes. The verb form analysis shows that they produce bare stems in the four clause types, but they did not produce a default verb form as Salustri and Hyams (2003), or Bybee (1995) suggest. The productivity analysis (Gathercole, et. al, 1999) shows that these children are productive with status suffixes but not with prefixes for aspect or agreement. The findings have significant implications for first language acquisition theories, especially for those theories that predict a default form.
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