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Differential Object Marking (DOM) is a linguistic phenomenon that morphologically marks direct objects that are more pro

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The Acquisition of Differential Object Marking
 9027261091, 9789027261090

Table of contents :
The Acquisition of Differential Object Marking
Editorial page
Title page
Copyright page
Table of contents
Introduction: Differential Object Marking and its acquisition in different languages and contexts
1. Differential object marking at a glance
2. The acquisition of differential object marking
3. Conclusions and further directions
Chapter 1. Acquisition of symmetrical and asymmetrical Differential Object Marking in Estonian
1. Introduction
2. Background
2.1 Previous research on the acquisition of DOM
2.2 Frequency and morphological complexity
2.3 DOM in Estonian
2.4 Predictions
3. Corpus study: Quantitative analysis
3.1 Method
3.2 Results of quantitative analysis
4. Nominative objects and errors in DOM
4.1 Nominative objects
4.2 Errors
5. Discussion and conclusions
Funding information
Chapter 2. Differential Object Marking in the speech of children learning Basque and Spanish
1. Introduction
2. Differential object marking and leísmo in Spanish
3. Differential Object Marking (DOM) in Basque
4. The acquisition of DOM in Spanish and Basque
5. Research questions
6. Experimental design
6.1 Adult participants
6.2 Child participants
6.3 Procedures
7. Results
8. Discussion
9. Conclusions
Chapter 3. Differential Object Marking in simultaneous Hungarian-Romanian bilinguals
1. Introduction
2. Previous studies on DOM in 2L1
3. DOM in Romanian bilingual acquisition
3.1 DOM in Romanian
3.2 DOM in Hungarian?
3.3 Predictions for DOM in 2L1 Romanian in a Hungarian–Romanian context
4. The study
4.1 Main questions
4.2 Longitudinal study
4.3 DOM in narrative
4.3 Discussion
5. Conclusion
Chapter 4. The acquisition of Differential Object Marking in Basque as a sociolinguistic variable
1. Introduction
2. Differential object marking in Basque
3. The study
3.1 Participants
3.2 Tasks
4. Results
4.1 Sociolinguistic interviews
4.2 Matched-guise experiment
5. Discussion and conclusions
Appendix. List of abbreviations
Chapter 5. The distribution of Differential Object Marking in L1 and L2 River Plate Spanish
The syntax of spanish and persian DOM
Dialectal differences in Spanish DOM
Acquisition task
Previous literature
Research questions and predictions
Experimental task
Analysis 1: Acceptability rates
Analysis 2: Production via accepted/corrected items
Analysis 3: Individual data
Chapter 6. On the acceptability of the Spanish DOM among Romanian-Spanish bilinguals
1. Introduction
2. Differential object marking in Spanish and Romanian
2.1 The acquisition of Spanish DOM by Romanian speakers
2.2 Previous studies on the acquisition of the Spanish DOM
3. The study
3.1 Research questions and hypotheses
3.2 Methods
4. Results
5. Discussion
Chapter 7. Animacy hierarchy effects on L2 processing of Differential Object Marking
1. Introduction
2. The linguistic phenomena: DOM and RCs in Spanish
3. Literature review
3.1 Production and offline studies of DOM in L2 Spanish
3.2 Online studies of DOM in L2 Spanish
4. The study
5. Methods
5.1 Participants
5.2 Materials and procedure
6. Results
6.1 Results with singular RC objects (al vs. a la)
6.2 Results with plural RC objects (a los vs. a las)
7. Discussion
7.1 Animacy hierarchy effects
7.2 Salience effects
7.3 Gender effects
7.4 L2 proficiency effects
8. Conclusions
Funding information
Chapter 8. Verbal lexical frequency and DOM in heritage speakers of Spanish
1. Introduction
2. Literature overview
2.1 Differential Object Marking
2.2 Variability among heritage speakers of Spanish
2.3 Lexical frequency
2.4 Lexical development in the L2 and HS
3. The study
3.1 Research questions and hypotheses
3.2 Methods
3.3 Statistical analysis
4. Results
5. Discussion
Chapter 9. The processing of Differential Object Marking by heritage speakers of Spanish
1. Introduction
2. Heritage speakers and the heritage language
3. Differential Object Marking in Spanish
4. Acquisition of Differential Object Marking by monolingual and heritage speakers
5. Methodology
5.1 Participants
5.2 Materials
5.3 Procedure
5.4 Data analysis
6. Results
Summary of the results
7. Discussion
Chapter 10. Comprehension of Differential Object Marking by Hindi heritage speakers
1. Introduction
2. Differential object marking in Hindi
3. The study
4. Discussion
5. Conclusion
Chapter 11. Differential Object Marking in Romanian as a heritage language
1. Introduction
2. DOM in Romanian
3. The acquisition of DOM in Romanian
4. The study
5. Discussion
6. Conclusion
Funding information
Chapter 12. Over-sensitivity to the animacy constraint on DOM in low proficient Turkish heritage speakers
1. Introduction
1.1 The interaction of animacy and DOM in Turkish
1.2 Acquisition of DOM and the relevant phenomenon in Turkish
1.3 Bilingualism research investigating the interaction of animacy with DOM
2. Methods
2.1 Experimental stimuli
2.2 Monolingual speakers of Turkish
2.3 Heritage speakers of Turkish
2.4 The acceptability judgement task
2.5 Data analysis
3. Results
3.1 Across group comparisons
3.2 Within group comparisons for main-animacy levels
3.3 Within group comparisons for subanimacy levels
3.4 Summary of results
4. Discussion and conclusions
Chapter 13. Acquisition of Differential Object Marking in Korean
A multi-factor system of Korean DOM
Study 1: L1 acquisition
Study 2: Bilingual acquisition

Citation preview


   

The Acquisition of Differential Object Marking Edited by Alexandru Mardale and Silvina Montrul


The Acquisition of Differential Object Marking

Trends in Language Acquisition Research issn 1569-0644 TiLAR publishes monographs, edited volumes and text books on theoretical and methodological issues in the field of child language research. The focus of the series is on original research on all aspects of the scientific study of language behavior in children, linking different areas of research including linguistics, psychology & cognitive science. For an overview of all books published in this series, please see

Editors Shanley E.M. Allen

University of Kaiserslautern [email protected]

Evan Kidd

Max Planck Institute for Psycholinguistics & Australian National University [email protected], [email protected]

Editorial Board Ruth A. Berman

Steven Gillis

Morten H. Christiansen

Annick De Houwer

Jean Berko Gleason

Elena Lieven

Nancy Budwig

Brian MacWhinney

Ewa Dąbrowska

Caroline F. Rowland

Tel Aviv University Cornell University Boston University Clark University University of Erlangen-Nürnberg and University of Birmingham

Philip S. Dale

University of New Mexico

Paul Fletcher

University of Antwerp University of Erfurt

University of Manchester Carnegie Mellon University University of Liverpool and Max Planck Institute for Psycholinguistics

Marilyn Vihman

University of York

University College Cork

Volume 26 The Acquisition of Differential Object Marking Edited by Alexandru Mardale and Silvina Montrul

The Acquisition of Differential Object Marking Edited by

Alexandru Mardale INaLCO, Paris

Silvina Montrul University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign

John Benjamins Publishing Company Amsterdam / Philadelphia



The paper used in this publication meets the minimum requirements of the American National Standard for Information Sciences – Permanence of Paper for Printed Library Materials, ansi z39.48-1984.

doi 10.1075/tilar.26 Cataloging-in-Publication Data available from Library of Congress: lccn 2020014059 (print) / 2020014060 (e-book) isbn 978 90 272 0563 6 (Hb) isbn 978 90 272 6109 0 (e-book)

© 2020 – John Benjamins B.V. No part of this book may be reproduced in any form, by print, photoprint, microfilm, or any other means, without written permission from the publisher. John Benjamins Publishing Company ·

Table of contents

Introduction Differential Object Marking and its acquisition in different languages and contexts Alexandru Mardale and Silvina Montrul Chapter 1 Acquisition of symmetrical and asymmetrical Differential Object Marking in Estonian Virve-Anneli Vihman, Anna Theakston and Elena Lieven Chapter 2 Differential Object Marking in the speech of children learning Basque and Spanish Jennifer Austin Chapter 3 Differential Object Marking in simultaneous Hungarian-Romanian bilinguals Larisa Avram and Veronica Tomescu Chapter 4 The acquisition of Differential Object Marking in Basque as a sociolinguistic variable Itxaso Rodríguez-Ordóñez Chapter 5 The distribution of Differential Object Marking in L1 and L2 River Plate Spanish Tiffany Judy and Michael Iverson Chapter 6 On the acceptability of the Spanish DOM among Romanian-Spanish bilinguals Julio César López Otero









The Acquisition of Differential Object Marking

Chapter 7 Animacy hierarchy effects on L2 processing of Differential Object Marking Nuria Sagarra, Aurora Bel and Liliana Sánchez Chapter 8 Verbal lexical frequency and DOM in heritage speakers of Spanish Esther Hur Chapter 9 The processing of Differential Object Marking by heritage speakers of Spanish Begoña Arechabaleta Regulez Chapter 10 Comprehension of Differential Object Marking by Hindi heritage speakers Archna Bhatia and Silvina Montrul Chapter 11 Differential Object Marking in Romanian as a heritage language Silvina Montrul and Nicoleta Bateman Chapter 12 Over-sensitivity to the animacy constraint on DOM in low proficient Turkish heritage speakers Elif Krause and Leah Roberts







Chapter 13 Acquisition of Differential Object Marking in Korean Eun Seon Chung




Introduction Differential Object Marking and its acquisition in different languages and contexts Alexandru Mardale and Silvina Montrul

Institut National des Langues et Civilisations Orientales de Paris – Laboratoire SeDyL UMR8202 CNRS / University of Illinois at Urbana Champaign

This volume brings together a selection of papers that were presented at the international workshop on the acquisition of differential object marking (DOM) organized by Alexandru Mardale (INaLCO, SeDyL) in Paris on December 10, 2016 as part of the Unity and diversity in Differential Object Marking research project funded by the Fédération Typologie et Universaux Linguistiques of the CNRS. Other papers in the volume were comissioned by Silvina Montrul (University of Illinois at Urbana Champaign) as part of her collaborative research projects on DOM in language acquisition. Taking a crosslinguistic perspective, the present volume includes 13 chapters on the monolingual and bilingual acquisition of DOM in a number of typologically unrelated languages (Basque, Estonian, Hindi, Korean, Persian, Romanian, Spanish, Turkish), from different theoretical and acquisition perspectives, and using different methodologies. The new and original empirical data from diverse acquisition situations presented in this collection contribute to advance our understanding of the factors that characterize DOM in diverse languages and to test and evaluate the explanatory power of available theoretical analyses of DOM and of language acquisition.

1. Differential object marking at a glance Differential Object Marking (DOM), a linguistic phenomenon that marks prominence, is widespread among languages of the world (Bossong, 1985). For example, Spanish, Romanian, Hindi, Turkish and Swahili, among many others, are known as DOM languages, while English, German, (Standard) French, (Standard) Italian and Japanese are non-DOM languages. At present, there are various definitions and understandings for DOM. Recent work considers DOM more broadly; that © 2020 John Benjamins Publishing Company


Alexandru Mardale and Silvina Montrul

is, as one of the various manifestations of a more global phenomenon involving specific marking of all types of arguments or semantic roles (Subjects, Agents, Direct and Indirect Objects), which is known as Differential Argument Marking (DAM, cf. Witzlack-Makarevich & Seržant, 2018). Other more traditional work (Bossong, 1985; Lazard, 1994; Laca, 1995) considers DOM from a narrower perspective, referring to some classes of nouns that occupy the (direct) object position and are endowed with certain properties that are treated differently in their morphosyntax compared to their counterparts that do not have the relevant semantic properties. As such, DOM is an iconic procedure: it overtly marks morphologically arguments that are semantically or pragmatically more salient/prominent than their non-overtly marked counterparts. Several semantic and pragmatic properties trigger DOM. The relevant properties range from animacy (more precisely humanness), to referentiality, specificity, definiteness, agentivity, and topicality (Aissen, 2003; Iemmolo, 2010, Dalrymple & Nikolaeva, 2011). According to several authors (Laca, 2002; von Heusinger & Kaiser, 2005; Mardale, 2010 a.o.), properties such as animacy, definiteness, referentiality or number are said to be local parameters; that is, they refer to inherent properties of the direct object, while specificity, agentivity, topicality, dislocation or modification are understood as global parameters, related to the wider clause context in which the object occurs. Thus, the marking may concern all these properties (global and local), a subset of them, or only one property from this list. However, the more a direct object displays several of these properties, the higher the chances of triggering DOM. By contrast, the more a direct object has the opposite properties, the lower the chances of being differentially marked. In Hebrew, for example, DOM is triggered by grammatical definiteness: all direct objects carrying the definite article are marked irrespective of the nature of their referent (animate or inanimate), as in (1): Dan kara et ha-sefer.  (−animate, +definite) Dan read dom the-book ‘Dan read the book.’ (Danon, 2002: 1)   b. Dan kara sefer. (−definite) Dan read book ‘Dan read a book.’ (1) a.

In Sardinian, all proper names (animate proper names or toponyms) are obligatorily marked, as in (2): (2) a.

Unu cazzadore at moltu a Kira.  a hunter has killed dom Kira ‘A hunter has killed Kira (the dog).’

(−human, +animate)

Introduction 3

b. Appo vistu a Napoli. (−animate) has seen dom Naples ‘I saw (the city of) Naples.’  

In other languages, DOM is triggered by multiple parameters, as in Corsican, where it appears only if the referent of the direct object is simultaneously animate and specific, as in (3): Vurria rivede à babbu.  want.cond see.again dom father ‘I would like to see again my father.’ vede à un cumidiante.    b.*Vurria want.cond see dom an actor ‘I would like to meet an actor.’ (3) a.

(+human, +specific)

(+human, −specific)

Additionally, it may happen that a direct object that is not differentially marked on the basis of its inherent properties (animacy, definiteness), may trigger DOM when it occurs in a certain context that falls under the incidence of a global factor. In Sicilian, for instance, human indefinite direct objects are not marked when they are in situ, in the postverbal position where they receive a non-specific reading (4a). When the object is dislocated in preverbal position and prosodically stressed, DOM may be triggered to imply a specific reading, as in (4b): (4) a.*Ammazzaru a nu sbirru.  killed.3pl dom a policeman ‘They have killed a policeman.’   b. (A) NU SBIRRU ammazzaru.  dom a policeman killed.3pl ‘They have killed a (specific) policeman.’

(+human, −specific)

(+human, +specific)

In addition to variation concerning the factors that trigger DOM within languages, there is much variation across languages. Modern Romanian, for example, where DOM is a systematic and well-established phenomenon showing clear contexts of obligatory and excluded occurrence, is highly different from Old Romanian (16th–18th centuries). In Old Romanian DOM could appear in contexts not presently allowed in Modern Romanian (with inanimate direct objects), as in (5), or DOM was absent in contexts that are now obligatory in Modern Romanian (e.g., with personal pronouns), as in (6) vs. (7): (5) a.

Domnul bătu pre faraon şi pre casa lui God.the hit.3sg dom Pharao and dom house.the his ‘God hit Pharao and his house.’ (PO/45) Old Romanian


Alexandru Mardale and Silvina Montrul

b. să nu urâm pre leacure (CTev/130r) subj not hate.1pl dom cures ‘Let’s not hate the cure.’  

părintele nostru  (6) rugăm tine ca drag implore.1pl you as beloved parent.the us ‘We implore you, as our beloved parent.’

(PO/9) Old Romanian

(7) a.*rugăm tine  implore.1pl you ‘We implore you.’   b. te rugăm pe tine implore.1pl dom you ‘We implore you.’

Modern Romanian

Cross-linguistically, languages may vary with respect to the properties responsible for triggering DOM, and with respect to the grammatical means for marking the object. Concerning the first point, it is well known that some languages are more sensitive to certain parameters than others. For the Romance family, for example, it has been shown that there is microvariation among the (three) languages displaying systematic DOM (Niculescu, 1965; Bossong, 1998; Iemmolo, 2010; Mardale, 2008, 2010 a.o.): – (Castilian) Spanish is sensitive to animacy and to global parameters such as agentivity, modification, lexical nature of the verb, and object dislocation (Laca 1995, 2006; Torrego, 1999; von Heusinger & Kaiser, 2005). This explains why certain direct objects, such as inanimate or indefinites may trigger DOM when they are under the incidence of the relevant global parameters. In (8) an inanimate direct object may be differentially marked because the subject of the sentence has strong agent-like properties; in (9a) a weak specific (bare) noun and in (9b) an indefinite DP may be optionally marked because they have an animate (human) referent and they carry a modifier; in (10), an inanimate DP may be differentially marked because it is (clitic left) dislocated: (8) Los ácidos atacan a los metales. the acids attack.3pl dom the metals ‘The acids attack the metals.’ Arrestaron a hinchas peligrosos de Madrid. arrested.3pl dom supporters dangerous of Madrid ‘They have arrested dangerous fans of Madrid.’   b. Busco a una cocinera que sabe inglés. look.for dom a cook.fem who knows English ‘I am looking for a cook who knows English.’ (9) a.

Introduction 5

(10) A la sacristía la traspasaba un buen sablazo de sol a good cut of sun dom the vestry pierced ‘The vestry, it was pierced by a good cut of sun.’

– Romanian DOM is more sensitive to definiteness and specificity and less sensitive to global parameters, with the exception of dislocation (Cornilescu, 2000; Mardale, 2009; Tigău, 2010; 2014). This explains why strong pronominal directs objects are obligatorily marked irrespective of the nature of their referent (animate or inanimate), as in (11). Specificity also explains why certain inanimate objects can be differentially marked, as is (12). Similarily, other specific inanimate objects may trigger DOM only when they are dislocated, as in (13). L-am cumpărat pe acesta / pe celălat. bought dom dom the.other ‘I have bought this one / the other.’   b. Ai luat-o pe aceea. have.2sg dom ‘You have bought that one.’ (11) a.

(12) L-ai uitat pe A din text. forgot dom A from text ‘You have forgot the (letter) A in the text.’ lăsat albina la urmă. (13) Pe trandafir l-a dom rose let bee.the at end ‘The rose, the bee let it for the end.’

– Sardinian is sensitive to local parameters and is less sensitive to global ones (Jones, 1993; Floricic, 2003). A direct object should have both an animate (human) referent and a specific reading in order for DOM to appear, see (14a) vs. (14b). The only situation where DOM is obligatory is with proper names, as in (15). Appo vistu a frate tuo.  have.1sg seen dom brother your ‘I have seen your brother.’   b.*Appo vistu a unu pastore.  have.1sg seen dom a shepherd ‘I have seen a shepherd.’ (14) a.

(+human, +specific)

(+human, −specific)

Unu cazzadore at moltu a Kira.  (−human, +animate) A hunter have.3sg killed dom Kira ‘A hunter has killed Kira.’   b. Appo vistu a Napoli. (−animate) have.1sg seen dom Naples ‘I have seen (the city of) Naples.’ (15) a.


Alexandru Mardale and Silvina Montrul

With respect to the grammatical means involved in the marking of the object, there are at least two possibilities: (i) marking via particles (generally grammaticalized prepositions) as shown above for Romance languages and (ii) marking via dedicated case affixes. In Armenian, for instance, inanimate direct objects appear as unmarked (i.e., zero affix), which corresponds to a nominative-accusative form (16a). By contrast, (human) animate direct objects are marked with dative morphology (i.e., spelled out as the affix -i), as in (16b) (Daniel & Khurshudian, 2015: 484): Rubin sirum ēr miayn žołovrdakann yerger-ø Rubin like aux.pst.3sg only folk song-nom/acc.p ‘Rubin loved only folk songs.’ (−animate)   b. Du sirel es mek-i-n, na uriš-i-n. you love.ptcp.pst aux.2sg person-dat-def him person-dat-def ‘You were loving a (certain) person, he was loving another one.’ (16) a.

Similarily, in Russian, masculine singular nouns in direct object position are differentially marked with the genitive/accusative suffix -a only if they refer to animates, as in (17a). Nouns referring to inanimates appear in a form identical to that of the nominative, which is unmarked for case (17b). Yuri videl mal’čik-a / begemot-a.  (Comrie, 1989: 132) Yuri see.pst.3sg boy.m-acc hippopotamus.m-acc ‘Yuri saw the boy / the hippopotamus.’   b. Yuri videl stol-ø Yuri see.pst.3sg table-ø ‘Yuri saw the table.’ (17) a.

Other languages may show two morphological marking strategies, using two distinct overt case affixes. In Ancient Greek, where the key parameters for DOM are definiteness and specificity, direct objects that receive an indefinite or non-specific reading are marked with the genitive case (18a), whereas definite and specific direct objects are marked with the accusative case (18b) (Riaño Rufilanchas, 2014: 529, apud Mardale & Karatsareas, in press): tē̂-s gē̂-s tem-eîn  the-gen land-gen ravage.aor-inf.act ‘to ravage some of the land’   b. tḕ-n gē̂-n tem-eîn the-acc land-acc ravage.aor-inf.act ‘to ravage the land’ (18) a.

(−definite, −specific)

Introduction 7

The phenomenon of clitic-doubling (i.e., doubling of the object by a weak pronominal form which agrees with the concerned object) is closely related to DOM and it is often considered as one of its manifestations. In (Modern) Romance languages, clitic-doubling is strictly dependent on prepositional DOM, more precisely the first could not appear if the direct object is not differentially marked by the grammaticalized preposition a (in Spanish, Sardinian, Corsican) or pe (in Romanian), as in (19) (see also Examples (8) to (15) above). Lo arrestaron a él (prepositional DOM) Spanish arrested dom him ‘They arrested him.’ arrestaron él   b.*Lo arrested him ‘They arrested him.’ (19) a.

Again, there is a lot of variation with respect to the interaction between cliticdoubling and (prepositional) DOM (Hill & Mardale, 2017). We can identify contexts of obligatory doubling (with direct objects realized as pronouns as in (20a)), optional doubling (with direct objects realized as personal proper names (20b), or human definite and specific DPs (20c)) or excluded (with certain bare quantifiers), as in (20d): L-au arestat pe el. arrested dom him ‘They arrested him.’   b. (L-)au arestat pe Vlad. arrested dom Vlad ‘They arrested Vlad.’   c. (L-)au arestat pe vecinul. arrested dom neighbor.the ‘They arrested my neighbor.’   d.*Nu l-au arestat pe nimeni. not arrested dom nobody ‘They didn’t arrest anybody.’ (20) a.

Modern Romanian

In Balkan languages – where there is no prepositional marking of the direct object –, clitic-doubling is the Differential Object Marking strategy and the semantic trigger is specificity rather than animacy. It applies to both direct (21a)–(b) and (22a), and indirect objects, (21c) and (22b), in this languages group, as we can see in the following examples for Modern Greek and for Macedonian respectively (examples from Miśeska Tomić, 2006: 252):


Alexandru Mardale and Silvina Montrul

Tin vlepo ti-n gata.  (+specific) Modern Greek see.1sg the-acc cat ‘I see the cat.’ markadhorus. (+specific)   b. Tus pira tu-s took.1sg the-acc markers ‘I took the markers.’   c. Tu egrapsa tu-Ø Jorghu. (+specific) wrote.1sg the-gen George ‘I wrote to George.’ (21) a.

pismoto.  (+specific) (Macedonian) Jana go vide Jana saw.3sg letter ‘Jana saw the letter.’   b. Jana mu go dade pismoto na edno dete. (+specific) child Jana gave.3sg letter to a ‘Jana gave the letter to a child.’ (22) a.

To summarize thus far, we have seen that DOM is a multifactorial and complex phenomenon common in many languages of the world. Yet, because it is regulated by syntactic, semantic and pragmatic factors, it exhibits significant variation within languages (intra-language) and across languages (inter-language) with respect to the triggering mechanism and to the forms used to mark direct objects. Research over the past twenty years has allowed us to grasp the key parameters that define DOM within each languages and crosslinguistically (Hopper & Thompson, 1980; Laca, 2002, 2006; Aissen, 2003; Leonetti, 2003, 2008; Næss, 2004; von Heusinger & Kaiser, 2005; de Hoop & de Swart, 2007). This research has also contributed to a more fine-grained understanding of the phenomenon in a growing number of languages, in synchrony and in diachrony. Due to the inherent complexity and variability of DOM, we expect it to be difficult to acquire, and the main motivation for this volume is to examine this question broadly. The chapters in this volume address the parameters or linguistic factors that trigger DOM in different languages through the lens of language acquisition and use in different populations. Investigating DOM from the perspective of language acquisition leads to a richer understanding of DOM as a grammatical phenomenon as well as the linguistic and environmental factors that affect its acquisition in different contexts.

Introduction 9

2. The acquisition of differential object marking A key question is how DOM is acquired and mastered by language learners in monolingual and bilingual contexts, and depending on their age. In the last decade, there have been several studies on the acquisition of DOM in Spanish, the most studied language in this respect. A pioneering study by Rodríguez-Mondoñedo (2008) has been at the forefront of research on the acquisition of DOM in Spanish and in other languages, not only in first language acquisition but also in second language acquisition and other instances of bilingualism. Assuming Aissen’s (2003) functionalist account, Rodríguez-Mondoñedo set out to investigate the roles of the animacy and referentiality semantic scales in defining DOM in Spanish by analyzing the longitudinal corpora from the CHILDES database (MacWhinney, 2001) to trace the early use of the object marker “a” in six monolingual children. The main finding was that the differential marker “a” with core cases is used target-like before the age of 3;0. Because the aim of his study was not to offer a longitudinal picture of the acquisition of DOM, Rodríguez-Mondoñedo did not examine whether children mark some DP types earlier than others or whether some DP types are never marked before age 3;0. Larisa Avram edited a special theme issue of Revue Roumaine de Linguistique, 2015/n° 4 covering the L1 acquisition of Romanian, Hebrew, Spanish, Korean, Turkish, Estonian and Lithuanian. All these studies largely confirmed Rodríguez-Mondoñedo’s main finding: that monolingual children acquire DOM by age 3;00 with very low error rates before that age. Importantly, the early “apparent” mastery of DOM in spontaneous oral production occurs regardless of how DOM is manifested morphologically and semantically in the ambient language. In stark contrast to the early command of DOM in L1 acquisition, DOM has been found to be subject to a wide range of variability in child and adult bilingualism, as reported in several studies of Spanish and a few on other languages (Hindi, Turkish, Persian) (Bohnacker & Mohammadi 2013; Ticio 2015), second and third language acquisition (Cabrelli-Amaro, Iverson, Giancaspro, & Holloran, 2020; Ciovârnache & Avram, 2013; Guijarro Fuentes, 2012; Papadopoulou, Varlokosta, Spyropoulos, Kaili, Prokou, & Revithiadou, 2010) and L1 attrition (Chamorro, Sturt, & Sorace, 2015; Montrul, Bhatt, & Girju, 2015). Studies of Spanish (Grosjean & Py,1991; Montrul, 2004, 2014; Montrul & Sánchez-Walker, 2013) and Hindi (Montrul, Bhatt, & Bhatia, 2012) as heritage languages in contact with a majority language that does not mark DOM (English, French) have found that omission of obligatory DOM in required contexts is a very frequent error. As argued by Montrul (2011), DOM is a complex phenomenon that lies at the interface of syntax, morphology, semantics and pragmatics. The variability seen in some instances of bilingualism is not entirely surprising if we consider the diachronic evolution of


Alexandru Mardale and Silvina Montrul

DOM in different languages and the variety of semantic and pragmatic factors that contribute to the intrinsic complexity of this phenomenon both within languages and cross-linguistically. Transfer or crosslinguistic influence from the dominant language also plays a role in the retraction of DOM in some bilingual contexts (Montrul, Bhatt, & Girju, 2015). The data from bilingualism and multilingualism (both children and adults) in different languages suggest that DOM is a very vulnerable domain, subject to fossilization, incomplete acquisition and attrition, especially when the bilingual situation involves a majority language that has no DOM, such as English. However, we are just beginning to investigate this widespread morphological phenomenon that straddles syntax, semantics and pragmatics. The purpose of this volume is to contribute to the goal of furthering our understanding of the nature and development of DOM in the languages of the world, in acquisition, and in language contact, variation and change. The thirteen chapters in this volume examine DOM in Spanish (Chapter 5 by Judy and Iverson, Chapter 6 by López Otero, Chapter 7 by Sagarra, Bel and Sánchez, Chapter 8 by Hur, Chapter 9 by Arechabaleta), in Basque (Chapter 2 by Austin and Chapter 4 by Rodríguez Ordóñez), in Romanian (Chapter 3 by Avram and Tomescu and Chapter 11 by Montrul and Bateman), in Estonian (Chapter 1 by Vihman, Theakston and Lieven), in Hindi (Chapter 10 by Bhatia and Montrul), in Turkish (Chapter 12 by Krause and Roberts) and in Korean (Chapter 13 by Chung). In all these languages, DOM is marked with a grammaticalized preposition or particle. In Spanish and Hindi, the DOM marker is the same marker used with dative case with indirect objects and dative subjects, and interestingly, DOM in Basque (an innovation through contact with Spanish) is also expressed through dative case agreement on the object and the verb. In Turkish and in Korean DOM is marked with accusative case, and in Estonian, the differential object can be marked with partitive or genitive case, depending on the type of object and on the aspectual characteristics of the predicate (perfective, imperfective). The examples in (23) to (30) illustrate DOM marking in all these languages. (23) Juan vió a María en el cine. Spanish Juan saw dom Maria in the movies. ‘Juan saw María at the movies.’ (24) Nik zuri ikusi di-zu-t Basque erg.1sg dat.2sg see aux.3sg-dat.2sg-erg.1sg ‘I have seen you’ (25) Îl vizitam pe Ion Romanian cl.acc.3sg.m visit.impf.1sg dom Ion ‘I was visiting Ion.’

Introduction 11

(26) laps jõi vett Estonian child.nom drink.3sg.prs water.par ‘the child drank/was drinking (some) water.’ (27) laps jõi vee ära Estonian child.nom drink.3sg.prs water.gen prf ‘the child drank up the (glass of) water.’ (28) Miiraa-ne RameS-ko dekhaa. Hindi Mira-erg Ramesh-dom saw ‘Mira saw Ramesh.’ (29) Ben Murat’ı öptüm Turkish I Murat-acc kissed ‘I kissed Murat.’ (30) Mina-ka cikum ppang-ul mek-e Korean Mina-nom now bread-acc eat-decl ‘Mina is eating brad now.’

All these languages differ in the semantic and pragmatic parameters that determined DOM. As shown earlier in Section 1, in Romanian and Spanish, animate and specific objects are marked with DOM, and the same parameters apply in Basque dative marking of direct objects. In Turkish and Hindi, animacy is less important than specificity, since specific objects must be marked with accusative case in these languages. In Estonian and Korean, DOM marking is different from the other languages. Estonian differs from all the other languages discussed in this volume because it marks all objects with case (symmetrical marking), but the type of case marking depends on the characteristics of the object and on the aspectual features of the predicate. So, perfectivity (a global parameter) is relevant in Estonian for DOM. Finally, DOM in Korean is expressed by dropping accusative case, typically in spoken language. Case drop is regulated by animacy, definiteness and focus, a pragmatic notion. In first language acquisition and simultaneous bilingual acquisition, children must learn whether their language marks objects differentially or not, and if it does, they must then learn the mechanisms for marking and the semantic/pragmatic conditions that determine DOM in the language. The chapters on the L1 acquisition of Estonian (Vihman et al., Chapter 1), on Basque-Spanish bilinguals (Austin, Chapter 2) and on Romanian-Hungarian simultaneous bilingual children (Avram and Tomescu, Chapter 3) analyze spontaneous production data and focus on how very young children discover the parameters that define DOM in these languages.. The studies confirm the early acquisition of DOM in all these languages by approximately age three, as Rodríguez-Mondoñedo (2008) found for Spanish,


Alexandru Mardale and Silvina Montrul

but unlike Rodríguez-Mondoñedo they take a more longitudinal approach to understand the process that leads to success by such an early age. Vihman et al. examined the spontaneous oral production of one child between the ages of two and three and the child directed speech to see how the child discovered the symmetrical and asymmetrical DOM marking found in Estonian, a language with a rich case marking system. At age two the child had not learned the asymmetric imperative context of DOM, using all three cases where only nominative and partitive are acceptable. The child also overused marked partial objects (an error of commission). The majority of object-marking errors involved erroneous usage of nominative vs. genitive in total object case-marking, rather than errors in total versus partial object choice. By age three, errors had declined overall, and there was almost target-like production of DOM. Austin found that two and three year old Basque-Spanish bilingual children used DOM at the same age in Basque and in Spanish, and earlier than monolingual Basque children. Compared to adults, the use of DOM was higher in the children’s speech. The bilingual children were sensitive to the animacy and specificity parameters of DOM in Basque. Avram and Tomescu (Chapter 3) found that the Hungarian-Romanian simultaneous bilinguals in their study followed the same acquisition route as Romanian monolinguals with obligatory uses of pe (DOM). However, the bilingual children were less accurate with pe-marking of descriptive DPs, which involves discourse pragmatics considerations, supporting the predictions of the Interface Hypothesis (Sorace 2011). These three chapters confirm that DOM is early acquired by children, in both monolingual and bilingual contexts, and that children pay attention to semantic notions to discover the objects that require DOM. The next four chapters deal with adult second language acquisition, three of them in a language contact situation with Spanish as the majority language. Chapter 4 is about Basque-Spanish bilinguals’ acquisition and use of DOM in Basque (Rodríguez-Ordóñez), Chapter 5 documents Spanish DOM in Farsi-speaking immigrants in Argentina (Judy and Iverson), Chapter 6 examines knowledge of Spanish DOM in Romanian immigrants in Spain, (López Otero) and Chapter 7 (Sagarra, Bel and Sánchez) focuses on the processing of Spanish DOM in relative clauses by English-speaking L2 learners of Spanish in the United States all these studies find that the L2 learners acquire DOM in Basque and Spanish, but there are significantly different from the baseline controls largely due to crosslinguistic influence or transfer from the dominant language of all these bilinguals (English, German, Spanish, Hungarian). Rodríguez Ordóñez used oral production data and found that intermediate L2 learners of Basque used more DOM in Basque than advanced L2 learners of Basque, compared to fluent Basque-Spanish bilinguals. Even though the intermediate L2 learners were more like the native Basque bilinguals, they used DOM more with third person objects, whereas the bilinguals used DOM more with first

Introduction 13

and second person objects. The results of a matched-guise experiment found that since Basque DOM is highly stigmatized in Standard Basque, such negative attitude plays an important role in the production of DOM among advanced L2 speakers. Judy and Iverson used a written grammaticality judgment task testing relative clauses with subjunctive/indicative and DOM/marked unmarked indefinite objects with native speakers of Spanish from Buenos Aires, Argentina and a small group of Farsi-speaking immigrants to Argentina. Like Turkish and Hindi, Farsi is a DOM language that uses accusative marking to mark specific direct objects. According to their results, there was significant variability in the native control group, a possibly related to the design of the experiment and the specific sentences tested in an acceptability judgment task, since the sentences were out of context. The highly proficient Farsi speakers were different from the baseline group and showed some patterns that can be related to how DOM is expressed in their native language. Some individual were also able to overcome possible transfer effects especially because they rejected DOM marked inanimate objects, a tendency found in some monolingual varieties of Spanish, contrary to what the native Argentines did. López Otero, who also tested highly proficient Romanian-speaking advanced L2 speakers of Spanish in Spain, found that despite the fact that the DOM systems of Spanish and Romanian are very similar, the grammaticality judgments of near-natives were different from the monolingual control group in two ungrammatical conditions that differ in Spanish and Romanians: namely, determiner + animate noun DPs and inanimate demonstrative pronoun DPs. Sagarra, Bel and Sánchez (Chapter 7), investigated the effects of animacy hierarchy (human, animal), salience of the DOM marker (unbound, bound), gender (feminine, masculine determiners), and L2 proficiency (higher, lower) on the processing of DOM in embedded subject relative clauses in Spanish, by native speakers and non-native speakers of different proficiency levels whose L1 (English) lacks DOM. They found that monolinguals and L2 learners are less sensitive to DOM in optional contexts in cognitively taxing situations (singular: bound DOM, plural: feminine determiner), but high proficiency learners were better than low proficiency learners. What emerges from these four studies is that DOM in L2 acquisition is not mastered at native levels, and that there are clear transfer effects from the languages in contact, with more pronounced non-native effects observed in lower proficiency L2 speakers whose L1 does not have DOM. Chapters 8 to 12 examine DOM in heritage speakers, adult early bilinguals growing up in the diaspora, who acquired their heritage language as a minority language in an immigration context. Unlike the early acquisition of DOM by monolingual children, DOM is vulnerable to incomplete acquisition and potential attrition in heritage languages that have DOM, especially if the majority language and the dominant language in heritage speakers is not a DOM language.


Alexandru Mardale and Silvina Montrul

This is because heritage speakers do not receive sufficient input or use the heritage language as often as they use the majority language to fully acquire all the semantic and pragmatic conditions that regulate use in their languages. Chapters 8 (Hur) and 9 (Arechabaleta) tested Spanish heritage speakers in the United States, Chapters 10 (Bhatia and Montrul) and 11 (Montrul and Bateman) are about Hindi and Romanian heritage speakers in the United States, and Chapter 12 (Krause and Roberts) examines knowledge of DOM in Turkish speakers in Germany. There is an important body of research on DOM in Spanish heritage speakers, showing that DOM is vulnerable and prone to omission in obligatory contexts, using a variety of behavioral methodologies, but Hur and Arechabaleta studied factors that have not been examined before. Hur examined the interaction of proficiency with verb lexical frequency and its relation to the syntactic features that trigger DOM. Consistent with previous research, Hur found significant differences with DOM omission in obligatory contexts between the heritage speakers and the Spanish control group but verb lexical frequency was not a significant factor in determining the omission of DOM by the heritage speakers. Heritage speakers with more advanced proficiency in Spanish omitted DOM less than the intermediate proficiency speakers, but the advanced speakers were still very different from the baseline group. Arechabaleta is one of the first studies looking at the online processing of DOM in heritage speakers of Spanish using eye-tracking while reading. Arechabaleta investigated whether heritage speakers of Spanish are sensitive to the omission of DOM with animate, specific direct objects in real-time processing. Monolingually raised native speakers and heritage speakers read sentences with and without DOM in SVO (canonical word order) and VSO (non-canonical word order). The findings confirmed that heritage speakers do not process DOM like the native speakers, as they were not sensitive to ungrammatical violations with DOM omission in SVO sentences. However, heritage speakers showed sensitivity to DOM omissions with VSO sentences, suggesting that different word order preserves DOM, and that DOM is not completely lost in bilinguals from the United States. Bhatia and Montrul (Chapter 10) and Montrul and Bateman (Chapter 11) examined comprehension and use of DOM in Hindi and Romanian heritage speakers in the United States, respectively. Both studies tested heritage speakers who were simultaneous and sequential bilinguals, adult immigrants, and age and SES matched native speakers in India and in Romania as baseline groups. Bhatia and Montrul examined comprehension of DOM in an offline picture sentence comprehension task in auditory and written modalities. Montrul and Bateman examined the oral production of DOM and clitic doubling in Romanian in a narrative task. Both studies found that the heritage speakers had difficulty comprehending sentences with DOM (Hindi) and produced some DOM omissions (Romanian) compared to

Introduction 15

the adult immigrants and the two baseline groups in the homeland, confirming that DOM is vulnerable in heritage language acquisition in general. Both studies also found an effect for age of onset of bilingualism, since the simultaneous bilinguals in the two studies showed lower accuracy rates with DOM than the sequential bilinguals, who experienced a period of monolingualism early in childhood. The studies did not detected attrition of DOM in the adult immigrant groups. Chapter 12, Krause and Roberts present a study that tested the effect of animacy on Turkish DOM using an acceptability judgment task in heritage speakers living in Germany with intermediate and low intermediate proficiency in Turkish. According to their findings, the higher proficiency heritage speakers patterned with the monolingual Turkish speakers tested as the control group, while the intermediate level heritage speakers had difficulty with DOM (accusative case) marking in Turkish. Despite being grammatically inaccurate, the lower proficiency heritage speakers were sensitive to more levels of animacy tested in the study than the higher proficiency speakers and the native speakers, indicating that although their heritage language is different, it is not necessarily simpler. What these studies reveal is that, as in L2 acquisition, DOM is vulnerable to incomplete acquisition in heritage language grammars, particularly when the dominant language of these bilinguals is not a DOM language. At the same time, heritage speakers retain some knowledge of DOM, and they are sensitive to some of the factors that trigger DOM, such as animacy, and word order. Finally, Chapter 13 (Chung) brings together first, second and heritage language acquisition in an overview of two related studies on Differential Object Marking in Korean in Korea and in the United States. The main goal of this chapter was to investigate whether young monolingual children have adult-like knowledge of the Korean DOM system at age 5 and to compare similarities and differences between L2 learners and heritage speakers in their knowledge of the phenomenon. The main finding of the two studies is that monolingual 5 year old Korean children have mostly acquired the complex properties of DOM as tested via an oral production task. By contrast, L2 learners showed variable patterns in their judgment and production of the accusative case-markers that significantly diverged from native Korean controls. Comparison of DOM in heritage speakers and L2 learners showed that the heritage speakers were significantly better on their knowledge and use of DOM in Korean than the L2 learners. Unlike the other studies of DOM in heritage speakers presented in this volume, Chung found notable similarities between the Korean native speakers and the heritage speakers, who reached a higher level of acquisition in Korean than the L2 learners.


Alexandru Mardale and Silvina Montrul

3. Conclusions and further directions Taken together, the chapters in this volume demonstrate that Differential Object Marking is a vulnerable grammatical domain in adult bilingualism, represented by second language acquisition and heritage language acquisition, but that it is mastered quite early in monolingual acquisition. This is a puzzle: given the complexity and variability of the phenomenon within a language, why are young children so efficient at extracting the form-function mappings with respect to this phenomenon? Although this volume included only one example from Estonian, the findings of Vihman et al. are consistent with previous findings on L1 acquisition of DOM in other languages. From Vihman et al.’s discussion, it is clear that a strictly usage-based account that prioritizes the role of the input over other cognitive or innate language related factors can not easily account for the child’s developmental route and eventual success at figuring it out the system in Estonian. The child seemed to have been more guided by complexity and by typological tendencies to mark objects symmetrically and less by the strict surface frequency found in the input and in the child directed speech. So, how children discover the factors that regulate DOM in their language so efficiently requires further investigation. The bilingual situation presents the challenge of dominant language transfer, which coupled with insufficient input in the heritage language or the L2 acquisition situation exacerbates the difficulty of discovering the parameters for DOM in the weaker language. Two current theoretical accounts that seem to capture the difficulty encountered by bilinguals is the Feature Reassembly Hypothesis (Lardiere, 2009), and a similar theory put forth by Putnam and Sánchez (2013), the Feature Activation Hypothesis, which would account for the success or lack of success at mapping formal semantic features like animacy or specificity to specific morphological forms, such as case marking, dedicated prepositions, or agreement in the languages represented in this volume. Difficulty with aspects of DOM that straddle discourse pragmatics, as shown in Romanian (Avram & Tomescu), are also predicted by the Interface Hypothesis (Sorace, 2011), according to which the interface between syntax and discourse is vulnerable in bilingualism in general. Finally, the studies on on-line processing by Sagarra et al. and Arechabaleta show how a cue-based approach (MacWhinney, 2005) can also account for how bilinguals process and integrate DOM or lack sensitivity to it during reading, an approach that complements what grammatical theories propose. Perhaps the key to understanding the sharp difference between monolingual and bilingual acquisition of DOM by age is to focus more closely in future work on cognitive mechanisms related to individual differences in input processing in children and adults, such as the role of memory systems and executive function, in grammatical processing. Collectively, the findings presented in this volume call for an integration of research on input in

Introduction 17

L1 and L2 acquisition, processing, grammatically sophisticated analyses of DOM systems crosslinguistically, and methodologies that will allow us to compare and contrast how children and adults learn and process DOM. Since DOM is a phenomenon that has evolved diachronically and in language contact situations (as the example of Basque in this volume shows), we also need research that examines and relates DOM at the individual psycholinguistic level and at the major sociolinguistic level, as represented in this volume by the studies by Rodríguez-Ordóñez and Austin. After all, diachronic and synchronic language changes start in the mind of individuals and then they spread to the society. In conclusion, the combined results of this volume illuminate the nature of a grammatical property common to many languages and help advance our understanding of its nature and acquisition in multiple contexts and situations of language learning.

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Introduction 19

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Sorace, A. (2011). Pinning down the concept of ‘interface’ in bilingualism. Linguistic Approaches to Bilingualism, 1(1): 1–33. Ticio, E. (2015). Differential Object Marking in Spanish-English early bilinguals. Linguistic Ap­ proaches to Bilingualism, 5(1), 62–90. Tigău, A. (2010). Towards an account of DOM in Romanian. Bucharest Working Papers in Lin­ guistics, 12(1), 137–158. Tigău, A. (2014). Argument licensing and Differential Object Marking. The Annual Conference of the English Department, University of Bucharest. Torrego, E. (1998). The dependencies of objects. Cambridge, MA: The MIT Press. Torrego, E. (1999). El complemento directo preposicional. In I. Bosque Muñoz & V. Demonte Barreto (Eds.), Gramatica descriptiva de la lengua española (pp 1779–1907). Madrid: EspasaCalpe. Witzlack-Makarevich, A., & Seržant, I. (2018). Differential argument marking: Patterns of variation. In I. Seržant & A. Witzlack-Makarevich (Eds.), Diachrony of differential argument marking (pp. 1–40). Berlin: Language Science Press.

Chapter 1

Acquisition of symmetrical and asymmetrical Differential Object Marking in Estonian Virve-Anneli Vihmani, Anna Theakstonii and Elena Lievenii iUniversity

of Tartu / iiUniversity of Manchester

We compared the acquisition of symmetrical and asymmetrical Differential Object Marking (DOM) within Estonian, which employs symmetrical DOM (alternation between overtly case-marked objects) with asymmetrical subsystems (alternation between marked and unmarked objects) for imperatives, impersonal voice constructions and plural objects. This difference in marking symmetry is linked to differences in form frequency and morphological complexity, with both factors affecting language acquisition. Through a detailed corpus analysis, we found that marking symmetry has an effect on one child’s DOM usage at ages 2;0 and 3;0. The child uses more marked objects overall and makes more errors of commission than omission in asymmetrical contexts, using case-marked objects in place of unmarked ones. Morphological complexity and frequency of form-function pairings were found to affect acquisition. Keywords: child language, Estonian, morphological complexity, case marking, case omission

1. Introduction Differential Object Marking (DOM) refers to the cross-linguistically attested pattern of marking objects in differing ways, depending on particular conditioning factors. Studies of the acquisition of DOM have mainly focussed on L2 acquisition and heritage speakers (e.g. Bohnacker & Mohammadi, 2012; Guijarro-Fuentes, Pires, & Nediger, 2015; Montrul, 2014). Yet the question of how children acquire variation in their first language is also an important one, and DOM systems provide a case of systematic morphosyntactic variation. Although early work hypothesized that animacy and definiteness of the object referent might be universal factors conditioning DOM (Aissen, 2003; Bossong, 1983), typological research has found that, in fact, DOM systems vary across © 2020 John Benjamins Publishing Company


Virve-Anneli Vihman, Anna Theakston and Elena Lieven

languages (Bickel & Witzlack-Makarevich, 2008; de Hoop & Malchukov, 2008; Sinnemäki, 2014). On the broadest level, DOM systems vary in whether they involve a choice between an unmarked and marked object (asymmetric dom), or between two marked objects (symmetric dom), as shown in Table 1. Table 1.  Object marking systems NO OBJECT MARKING

Direct objects uniformly unmarked (all Ø)


Direct objects uniformly marked

(all +X)

DIFFERENTIAL ASYMMETRIC DOM Unmarked vs marked direct objects (+X vs Ø) OBJ. MARKING SYMMETRIC DOM Differential overt marking (+X vs +Y)

Asymmetric DOM, employed by languages as diverse as Spanish, Turkish and Hindi, requires object marking only under particular conditions, usually related to properties of the object (e.g. animacy, specificity). Symmetric DOM, mostly found in Finnic and Indo-European, but also attested in some Polynesian languages, refers to the alternation between two overtly marked objects and tends to be conditioned by verb semantics and event properties, such as aspect and polarity (Iemmolo, 2013). Symmetric systems were attested in 16% of Iemmolo’s sample of 159 DOM languages (2013). The acquisition of symmetric vs. asymmetric DOM systems has not previously been addressed, but the difference in “marking symmetry” is likely to have an effect on linguistic development, as factors such as the frequency of forms occurring in the input, morphological complexity and salience have been found to be important in linguistic development (see, e.g. Ambridge et al., 2015; Dressler, 2005). It is difficult, however, to compare the acquisition of symmetric and asymmetric systems in order to test the effect of marking symmetry itself, because the differences in marking systems across languages are also associated with variability in the factors conditioning DOM (Iemmolo, 2013). The majority of research on DOM, including its acquisition, has focussed on asymmetric systems, perhaps because they are more common cross-linguistically. In this study, we look at the acquisition of one language, Estonian, which primarily uses symmetric DOM, yet also employs asymmetric subsystems to express the same contrasts. The acquisition of case-marking in Estonian, including DOM, has previously been investigated in qualitative studies of longitudinal data (Argus, 2009b, 2015); results from earlier research are summarised in Section 2. Importantly, both the symmetric and asymmetric subsystems are conditioned in Estonian by the same complex of factors: an interaction between predicate semantics, object properties and lexical information. Hence, we can investigate

Chapter 1.  Acquisition of symmetrical and asymmetrical DOM in Estonian 23

whether marking symmetry itself has an effect on children’s accuracy in learning the system. We are interested in whether the child’s choice of direct object form is affected by the set of available alternatives, either two marked forms or a marked and unmarked option. To investigate this, we examine transitive clauses in corpus data from one Estonian child and child-directed speech (CDS) at ages 2 and 3. The chapter is structured as follows: in the next section, we discuss the theoretical background of the study, with an overview of previous research on the acquisition of DOM and two factors known to impact acquisition (frequency and complexity), as well as providing a sketch of the Estonian DOM system. In Section 3, we present quantitative results from a corpus study investigating the impact of marking symmetry on the acquisition of DOM. In Section 4, we take a closer look at (a) the use of nominative (unmarked) objects in different contexts in the corpus data and (b) the errors in object case-marking made by the child. Section 5 discusses implications and conclusions. 2. Background 2.1

Previous research on the acquisition of DOM

The first study focussing on monolingual L1 acquisition of DOM claimed that “children master Spanish DOM virtually without mistake” (Rodríguez-Mondoñedo, 2008: 21). This has been followed more recently by studies in several languages (see, especially, papers in Avram, 2015), including studies on symmetric DOM in Lithuanian (Dabašinskienė, 2015) and Estonian (Argus, 2008, 2015), discussed in more detail below. Yet before exploring cross-linguistic evidence, it is worth revisiting the data reported in that first study by Rodríguez-Mondoñedo. He reported “[no] significant errors in child performance” (2008: 23). However, low overall error rates may reveal pockets of greater errors when we take a closer look (cf. Aguado-Orea & Pine, 2015; Rubino & Pine, 1998). Rodríguez-Mondoñedo analyzed data from six children, two of whom have only one or two examples of direct object use overall and no examples of DOM, and so are excluded from the quantitative analysis (2008: 32). As shown in Table 2, the remaining children show low overall error rates (0.9–4.3%). Yet a closer analysis reveals that every one of the four children whose data was included show higher error rates when marked objects were required (7.7–25%) than when unmarked objects were required (0–0.9%): in other words, children tended to omit required marking, but not provide marking when it was not required. These higher error rates are masked when we look at the data as a whole,


Virve-Anneli Vihman, Anna Theakston and Elena Lieven

Table 2.  DOM use by L1 Spanish children: Reanalysis of Rodríguez-Mondoñedo’s (2008) data. DOM overuse = marking produced where no marking is required; DOM omission = no marking produced where marking is required Name


Total direct objects

Overall error rate

María Koki Juan Emilio

1;7–3;0  1;7–2;11 0;9–2;9  0;11–2;11

441 335  46 169

0.9% 2.1% 4.3% 2.4%

DOM overuse (% errors in unmarked contexts) 0.5% 0.9% 0%    0.6%

DOM omission (% errors in marked contexts)  7.7% 25% 20%* 25%

because there are fewer examples, overall, of [+animate, +specific] objects, which require overt prepositional a-marking in Spanish, than objects requiring no marking: in these data, 54 DOM objects to 937 objects requiring no marking, altogether. Rodríguez-Mondoñedo’s data make it clear that the children did not learn the pattern errorless: Before age three, only one child of four shown in Table 2 had greater than 80% accuracy in contexts where DOM was required. Ticio and Avram (2015) found similar results in two-year-olds’ (1;7–2;2) DOM usage in Spanish and Romanian: five of six children made many more errors of omission than overuse of DOM (though accuracy by DOM condition cannot be calculated based on the data published), and overall error rates varied from 16.6%–29.9%. The above reanalysis raises various questions. Why do we find higher error rates in the DOM condition? Is it due to the much higher frequency of unmarked objects, or their relative morphological simplicity, compared to DOM objects? Does the (presumably) high frequency in the input of unmarked objects obscure the conditions for when to use a marked object? Perhaps children pick up on the default status of unmarked nouns in the language, leading to errors due to the greater effort required to recall and identify the conditions requiring DOM during online speech production? Or is there something about marking itself that is more effortful, so that children acquiring Spanish and Romanian initially disprefer producing DOM objects? One way to address these questions is to compare the data from Romance languages with languages which employ symmetrical DOM. In concluding remarks, Rodríguez-Mondoñedo acknowledges the existence of languages like Finnish, with symmetrical DOM, explicitly excluded from Aissen’s (2003) analysis. He proposes the possibility that, despite differences in morphological marking, the licensing of object marking operates in the same way across all languages, including those like Spanish or Turkish, with restricted object marking, Finnish, with two differently

Chapter 1.  Acquisition of symmetrical and asymmetrical DOM in Estonian 25

marked objects, German, which marks all objects, or English, which marks none (other than some pronouns). He ventures that: the syntax for all DOM languages is basically the same. Notice that this greatly improves the child’s ability to acquire DOM, since it implies that actually all languages are DOM; the only thing that the child must learn is how to mark these positions.  (Rodríguez-Mondoñedo, 2008: 33–34)

However, the factors guiding the different language types have since been shown to systematically differ. Symmetric DOM systems tend to be conditioned by predicate semantics, whereas asymmetric systems are usually based on object referent properties, making it difficult to compare the acquisition of these disparate systems in a controlled fashion (Iemmolo, 2013). In Estonian, both symmetric and asymmetric oppositions occur, and they are conditioned by the same semantic opposition (Ogren, 2015a), making the language a good test case for investigating the effect of marking symmetry on acquisition. It remains the case that the majority of research on the acquisition of DOM has centered around asymmetric systems, but some recent studies have turned their attention to symmetric systems, and have similarly reported early, nearly error-free acquisition. Dabašinskienė (2015) presented data to suggest that that two children learning L1 Lithuanian began producing both DOM alternatives (genitive and accusative) from as early as 1;8, and “fully mastered” the DOM system by the end of the study, at 2;6, when more than 95% accuracy is reported (Dabašinskienė, 2015: 379). Argus (2015) examined the input and productions of two L1 Estonian children, who began producing contrasting object forms at 1;3 and 1;8,1 and made few errors by the end of the study at 2;3 and 2;4 (again, more than 95% accuracy). We compare the errors in that study and ours in Section 4. In our study, we found significant differences in DOM usage between ages 2 and 3, and more errors in object case-marking at both ages, indicating that early DOM usage is not always accurate. Although monolingual L1 acquisition of both symmetrical and asymmetrical DOM is faster and apparently easier than acquisition of DOM among bilingual children and adult L2 learners, nevertheless monolingual children also make errors, and may undergo more gradual learning in certain DOM conditions.

1. The criteria we use for including an object noun in the analysis differ from both Argus (2015) and Dabašinskienė (2015), as many of their early examples of objects occur in utterances without a verb.

26 Virve-Anneli Vihman, Anna Theakston and Elena Lieven


Frequency and morphological complexity

The difference in marking symmetry conditions examined in this paper involves differences along dimensions that are known to affect language acquisition, particularly frequency of forms in the input and complexity of morphological marking. Symmetric marking in Estonian involves a choice between partitive and genitive object forms, which are both learned early (Argus, 2009b) and occur with similar frequency in the spoken language. The asymmetric subsystem, in contrast, involves a choice between partitive object marking and unmarked, nominative objects. An analysis of spontaneous Estonian child-directed speech addressed to children aged 1;3 to 4;2 (including over 17,000 noun tokens from three corpora: Argus, 1998; Vija, 2007; Zupping, 2016) found 39% of all noun tokens were in nominative case, 22% were genitive and 16% were partitive (Granlund et al., 2019). Thus, the asymmetric (partitive-nominative) context presents a greater imbalance than the symmetric (partitive-genitive) context in both frequency and complexity. Work in the framework of Usage-Based linguistics has shown that frequency affects language processing on all levels (e.g. Behrens & Pfänder, 2016; Bybee, 2010; Bybee & Hopper, 2001; Divjak & Gries, 2012; Gries & Divjak, 2012); language acquisition is no exception. Young children are sensitive to the frequency of words and word forms in the input speech they hear: frequent forms are learned earlier and more accurately than rarer forms, whilst frequent forms also lead to error when they are used in place of less frequent forms (Ambridge et al., 2015; see also Gülzow & Gagarina, 2007; Kjaerbaek et al., 2014). Frequent forms tend to be unmarked, morphologically simpler, and learned early. The nominative case in Estonian is an example: nominative is more frequent than any other case; nouns tend to be learned first in nominative case (Argus, 2009b); and the other cases are morphologically more complex than the unmarked nominative (see Section 2.3). Syntactic objects in nominative case are highly restricted in use (described in Section 2.3), but nominative nouns overall are highly frequent. Dabašinskienė (2015) reports some erroneous productions in early L1 Lithuanian of unmarked, nominative objects in negated constructions, where genitive case is required, even though no nominative objects occur in the Lithuanian DOM system. We might expect children acquiring Estonian to make even more errors of this sort, since they do encounter nominative objects in certain contexts. Morphological complexity is less straightforward to measure than frequency (see Baerman, Brown, & Corbett, 2015), but various aspects of complexity have been shown to influence language acquisition. These include the transparency of form-to-function mapping (one-to-one mapping between form and function facilitating acquisition, Slobin, 1985); perceptual salience of distinctions (phonetically more differentiated and more perceptible inflections being easier to acquire, e.g.

Chapter 1.  Acquisition of symmetrical and asymmetrical DOM in Estonian 27

full syllables are easier than consonantal affixes, Goldschneider & DeKeyser, 2001) and simplicity of the morphological forms (e.g. affixal case endings are easier to acquire than stem changes, Laaha & Dressler, 2012; Laaha et al., 2011). Typological differences in marking systems also matter (Albirini, 2015; Janssen, 2016; Xanthos et al., 2011): the effect of object marking may depend, for instance, on whether the child is acquiring a highly inflected or uninflected language. In this paper, we are interested in the complexity of morphological forms. Estonian genitive and partitive are both inflected forms, and both involve stem changes in some declension classes, affixes in many declension classes, and some degree of syncretism. The nominative does not require additional morphology, and is considered to be a base form, and so we take it to be morphologically simpler than the partitive and genitive, although it is not always shorter for every noun (see Section 2.3).2 Overall, the findings regarding morphological marking suggest that more distinct, clearly marked forms are acquired earlier than polysemous forms. All three of the Estonian object marking cases are polysemous (Erelt & Metslang, 2017), meaning that they are all mapped to more than one function, and sometimes homophonous with the others, i.e. a single form can signal more than one case (with syncretic forms for nom+gen, nom+par, or all three forms, depending on the declension class). One of the most basic functions of case-marking is to differentiate between core grammatical functions (De Hoop & Malchukov, 2008; Hopper & Thompson, 1980), and the grammatical function of subject is very strongly associated with nominative case (Miljan, Kaiser, & Vihman, 2017). A child learning a case-marking language learns early on that objects are morphologically differentiated from subjects, and may therefore learn to disprefer unmarked objects. We set out our predictions based on form frequency and morphological complexity in Section 2.4, following a description of the Estonian DOM system. 2.3

DOM in Estonian

Estonian belongs to the Finnic language family, known for employing an opposition between ‘total’ and ‘partial’ objects, both of which bear overt case-marking (Huumo, 2010, 2013; Kiparsky, 1998; Tamm, 2007). Estonian DOM is semantically and syntactically conditioned by a combination of event and object properties: 2. A reviewer was concerned that the genitive form may be more frequent because it occurs as a stem in eleven semantic cases, in which a case suffix is added to the genitive-form stem. We assume that the child is sensitive to whole words and makes a distinction between the genitive encountered on its own and the same form with affixes attached, forming new whole forms with entirely different functions. Just as importantly, we also note that all eleven semantic cases made up only 22% of all noun tokens in Granlund et al.’s (2019) analysis of Estonian CDS.


Virve-Anneli Vihman, Anna Theakston and Elena Lieven

polarity and perfectivity (telicity) of the predicate, lexical semantics of the verb, and the definiteness, quantity and affectedness of the object referent (Erelt & Metslang, 2017; Lees, 2015; Ogren, 2015a, 2018; Tamm, 2004). The nominal cases are exemplified in Table 3. They are inflected, according to their declension class, through both affixation (see Table 3 a-c: partitive) and stem changes (Table 3, a and e). See Ehala (2011), Blevins (2008), Argus (2009a) for more details. Table 3.  Estonian nominal inflection: Formation of the three grammatical object cases. Examples drawn from the five most frequent declension classes in Child-Directed Speech   Nominative Genitive Partitive

a. ‘Horse’ hobune hobuse hobus-t

b. ‘Moon’ kuu kuu kuu-d

c. ‘Book’ raamat raamat-u raamatu-t

d. ‘Father’ isa isa isa

e. ‘Swing’ kiik kiig-e kiik-e

Previous studies suggest that morphologically more complex forms are more difficult for children to learn (e.g. Goldschneider & DeKeyser, 2001; Laaha et al., 2011; Slobin, 1985). In Estonian, genitive forms are considered more complex than nominative. Nouns in genitive case must always end in a vowel, and some vowel-final nominatives are syncretic with the genitive, as in (b) kuu ‘moon’ and (d) isa ‘father’ in Table 3. However, we found that only 16% of noun lemmas in a CDS corpus had syncretic nominative and genitive forms (Granlund, et al., 2019), whereas 84% of noun lemmas mark genitive case with some additional marking. Moreover, 66% of nouns require stem change in forming the genitive case (consonant gradation, as in (e) kiik ‘swing’, or phonemic change, as in (a) hobune ‘horse’, in Table 3). Stem changes add complexity even if they do not add length, and they tend to be slow to acquire (Hallap et al., 2014; Kjaerbaek et al., 2014). The primary split in object marking is semantic and distinguishes partial and total objects. Partial objects (PO) are always marked with partitive case, and express imperfective, atelic aspect (1), objects of indefinite quantity (2), and/or negation. Negative clauses only take PO. (1) korista-si-n tuba (terve hommik)  tidy-pst-1sg room.par whole morning ‘I was tidying the room (all morning).’

(= did not finish)

(2) laps jõi vett child.nom drink.pst.3sg water.par ‘the child drank/was drinking (some) water.’

Total objects (TO) are marked with genitive case in most instances. They express perfective aspect and definite object quantity (3)–(4) and are always affirmative.

Chapter 1.  Acquisition of symmetrical and asymmetrical DOM in Estonian 29

(3) küpseta-si-n koogi (hommiku-l).  bake-pst-1sg cake.gen morning-ade ‘I baked a/the cake (in the morning).’

(= finished baking)

(4) laps jõi vee ära. child.nom drink.pst.3sg water.gen prf ‘the child drank up the (glass of) water.’

In (4), the mass noun ‘water’ is coerced into a quantitatively bounded interpretation due to the genitive case (TO), giving rise to the interpretation: ‘a glass of water’. Predicates with a TO must satisfy all criteria: affirmative clause, perfective (telic) predicate, and definite quantity of object. Predicates with PO have the complementary semantics, but a PO is required if any one of the criteria for TO is not met. Hence, PO can be seen as the default, or prototypical object (Ehala, 2011: 328), applying when the predicate is negated, imperfective, irresultative, and/or has an object which is unaffected, partially affected or of indeterminate quantity. For the most part, DOM in Estonian is symmetric, with two overtly marked alternatives, genitive and partitive. In some syntactically defined contexts, however, the TO is assigned nominative rather than genitive case, resulting in contexts of asymmetric DOM. Asymmetric contexts arise with: (i) plural objects (Example (5)); (ii) subjectless imperative (6) and impersonal clauses (Torn-Leesik & Vija, 2012); and (iii) certain infinitival constructions, which do not concern us in this paper (see Ogren, 2015a, 2015b). luge-s-in ajaleh-ed (läbi) read-pst-1sg through ‘I read the newspapers.’ (= finished reading them)   b. luge-s-in ajaleh-ti (terve päev) read-pst-1sg whole-day ‘I read newspapers (all day).’

Plural TO

söö puder ära  eat.imp.2sg prf ‘Eat the porridge (up)!’   b. söö (veel) putru  eat.imp.2sg more porridge.par ‘Eat (some more) porridge!’

Imper. TO

(5) a.

(6) a.

Plural PO

Imper. PO

The case marking and conditions determing symmetric vs asymmetric DOM are summarised in Table 4.


Virve-Anneli Vihman, Anna Theakston and Elena Lieven

Table 4.  Summary of DOM in Estonian: Differential case-marking and marking symmetry  

Differential Marking

Symmetric: Singular object, declarative or interrogative clause

Marking symmetry Asymmetric: Plural object, imperative or impersonal clause

PARTIAL OBJECT: Imperfective/atelic predicate OR Unaffected object, indeterminate quantity; Negative OR affirmative

TOTAL OBJECT: Perfective, telic predicate & affected object of defined quantity & affirmative clause





Not all verbs participate in DOM alternation. Transitive verbs have traditionally been classified as either ‘aspectual verbs’ which show object case alternation, or ‘partitive verbs’, which take only PO, including cognition and psych verbs such as nägema ‘see’, arvama ‘think’, armastama ‘love’ (see Erelt & Metslang, 2017; Vaiss, 2004). In any linguistic context allowing DOM, only two cases are available, with partitive PO (1), (2), (5b), (6b) alternating with either genitive (3)–(4)) or nominative TO (5a), (6a). Because the alternation always involves partitive case in any alternation contexts, we define the DOM choice facing the speaker as partitive / non-partitive, and use proportion of objects in partitive case as a measure of this choice in our initial analysis across the differing symmetry conditions, focussing on the use of nominative TO in the qualitative analysis. The main contexts involving an asymmetric choice are imperative and impersonal clauses and plural objects, contexts which are quite differently conditioned. Imperatives and impersonals are defined on the level of the clause, through verb marking and subject omission. Object number is a factor with much narrower scope, involving only the object referent itself. The nominative plural object does not trigger agreement (hence is not subject-like), and may even co-occur with a nominative subject. The choice between nominative (unmarked) and genitive TO is syntactically governed, whereas the choice between DOM alternatives TO/PO is often variable, and not always straightforward: often both case-marking options are grammatical in a clause, and native speakers sometimes disagree on the correct form in a particular context. Faced with this variability, how do children learn the various conditioning factors and object forms involved in the system?

Chapter 1.  Acquisition of symmetrical and asymmetrical DOM in Estonian 31



We are interested in whether the symmetry of marking alternations has an effect on the child’s use of DOM. We use the term ‘marking symmetry’ to denote the difference in DOM type, involving either symmetric (par vs gen) or asymmetric (par vs nom) alternations. Our hypothesis is that the child’s use of DOM (as measured by use of PO among overt objects) will differ according to marking symmetry contexts. However, the two factors discussed earlier, frequency and complexity, point to two competing predictions. An account based on form frequency alone would expect unmarked nominative nouns to be easier to acquire and more likely to be overused as objects, leading to (a) overuse of nom TO in asymmetric contexts and (b) errors of nominative objects in all contexts. A morphological complexity account would lead to the reverse expectation: that overtly marked objects would be easier to distinguish and earlier acquired, leading to (a) overuse of PO in asymmetric contexts and (b) errors where overtly marked (genitive or partitive) objects are used in place of nominative objects. Based on research showing effects of both form frequency and morphological complexity, we expect these factors to interact, resulting in errors of both omission and commission. 3. Corpus study: Quantitative analysis We analysed the Vija corpus, available on the CHILDES databank (MacWhinney, 2000; Vija, 2007). This corpus contains recordings of naturalistic speech compiled according to a (semi-)dense recording schedule (Lieven & Behrens, 2012). It consists of one child recorded with caregivers (mostly the mother, whose speech we took to represent the CDS) five hours a week for six-week blocks at two time points, 2 and 3 years of age (2;0.1–2;1.12 and 3;0.0–3;1.13), amounting to 60 transcriptions of 45- to 60-minute recordings. The corpus has additional monthly recordings beginning at 1;7 and continuing for the months intervening between the two dense time points; but these monthly transcripts were not included in the analysis. 3.1


Utterances were extracted from the corpus based on a list of the 24 most frequent verbs which were (1) used with overt objects (regardless of whether they are used with DOM in the target language or not, allowing for the possibility of the child


Virve-Anneli Vihman, Anna Theakston and Elena Lieven

using DOM even with non-DOM verbs), (2) used by the child with contrastive verb inflections by age 2, and (3) present in each of four datasets (CDS and child speech at two time points each). We included all clauses with finite forms of the selected verbs and excluded utterances in the CDS containing inflections not yet used by the child at that age (i.e. impersonal and 2pl at age 2). The resulting dataset included 8,997 utterances with transitive verbs, as summarised in Table 5. All utterances were individually coded by hand. We excluded utterances with ambiguous object nouns from the analysis,3 and we excluded negative utterances because these do not allow variation. As the paradigm for pronouns is different from nouns with respect to marking symmetry, we only included utterances with lexical nouns for the quantitative analysis. Table 5.  Number of utterances in each dataset Age

2;0.01 – 2;1.12 3;0.01 – 3;1.13 TOTAL

Child MLU in words 2–2.9 2.6–5.5


Total utterances (24 verbs)

N utterances with N utterances affirmative polarity with asymmetric and NP object marking

Child 2;0



134 (29%)

CDS 2;0



175 (35%)

Child 3;0



384 (41%)

CDS 3;0



181 (36%)



874 (37%)

Utterances using the following transitive verbs were included:4 aita ‘help’, anna ‘give’, hoia, ‘hold’, joo ‘drink’, joonista ‘draw’, keera ‘turn’, kirjuta ‘write’, kuula ‘listen’, laula ‘sing’, leia ‘find’, loe ‘read’, lõika ‘cut’, näe ‘see’, näita ‘show’, osta ‘buy’, otsi ‘look for’, pane ‘put’, pese ‘wash’, söö ‘eat’, taha ‘want’, tee ‘make/do’, too ‘bring’, viska ‘throw’, võta ‘take’.

3. Nouns with ambiguous forms included both (1) syncretic forms, lacking distinctions between the relevant cases (e.g. maja ‘house.nom/gen/par’), and (2) forms whose spelling obscures distinctions, where two stem forms differ only in acoustic length distinctions not reflected in Estonian orthography (e.g. ‘milk’: piima (gen), piima (par). Spoken Estonian distinguishes the long /i:/ in genitive piima and the ‘overlong’ /i::/ in partitive pii’ma, but the CHILDES transcripts use standard orthography, which does not annotate this, leaving gen and par usage undifferentiated. 4. Only direct objects of simple verbs (e.g. ‘want cookie’) were used. Objects of infinitival complements (e.g. ‘want to eat cookie’) were excluded.

Chapter 1.  Acquisition of symmetrical and asymmetrical DOM in Estonian 33

Predictors Aspect is often cited as the main factor guiding DOM in Estonian, but the main aspectual marker is object case-marking, our dependent variable, and so could not be used as an independent predictor in the model. We used two predictors which approximate perfectivity: presence or absence of a perfective particle (such as ära ‘away’ in Examples (4), (6a), or läbi ‘through’ in (5a), Metslang, 2001), and verb tense, which often correlates with perfectivity in acquisition (Gagarina, 2004; Shirai, Slobin, & Weist, 1998). Two predictors characterised the object noun: its animacy and countability (count, mass). We included in the child’s model a predictor based on the DOM usage in the CDS. This predictor is a continuous variable based on the proportion of PO per verb in both CDS datasets. The child’s age (2, 3 years) was also included. Finally, we constructed a predictor, Marking_Symmetry, which defined the DOM type for each utterance. Marking_Symmetry is based on three contexts (clause type, object number and verb inflection), which were not included as independent predictors. The asymmetric contexts defined in the study were (a) imperative clauses, (b) plural nouns, (c) impersonal voice (used by the child only at age 3). These are examined separately in Section 4. The proportion of asymmetric contexts in the four datasets ranged between 29% and 41% (see Table 5). 3.2

Results of quantitative analysis

The overall proportions of PO and TO in each DOM condition are shown in Figure 1. Here we can see that TO is used proportionally more in asymmetric conditions throughout, in each dataset. To control for other factors which may vary across conditions, we ran a generalized linear mixed-effects regression model using the lme4 package (Bates et al., 2015) in R (R Core Team, 2016) on the child and CDS datasets. Negative clauses and pronominal objects were excluded. The dependent variable was defined as the use of PO in each utterance (O.PART; coded as 1 = partitive, 0 = non-partitive). A random intercept was included for verbs. We ran a full linear model for the child datasets with the following predictors as fixed effects, including two-way interactions: Marking_Symmetry (0 = symmetrical, 1 = asymmetrical), CDS lexical bias (CDS_Bias, continuous variable), presence of perfective particle (PerfPart; 0, 1), age (2, 3 years), object animacy (inanimate, animate), verb tense (past, present), object countability (count, mass).5 We successively removed 5. The final model used the following formula: glmer(O.PART ~ (1|VERB) + Marking_ Sym­metry + CDS_Bias + agegroup + factor(PerfPart) + Anim2 + Tense + Countability +

Virve-Anneli Vihman, Anna Theakston and Elena Lieven



1.00 0.75 CHI

0.50 Proportional use of PO and TO


0.25 0.00 1.00 0.75 MOT

0.50 0.25 0.00 Asymmetric

Symmetric Asymmetric Marking symmetry


Figure 1.  Use of PO vs TO (lexical nouns only) in each dataset (age 2, 3, CHI = child, MOT = mother), by Marking Symmetry condition. N = 1093 nouns in asymmetric DOM, 1390 symmetric

predictors from the model and used ANOVA model comparison at the time they were removed to find the best model. The final model is shown in Table 6. We found highly significant main effects of CDS lexical bias (use of PO with each verb in the input) and object countability, as expected, and a significant main effect of marking symmetry. Significant interactions were found between presence of a perfective particle and object animacy; and between asymmetrical marking and present tense verbs. The child’s tendency to use more PO with present-tense verbs was reduced in asymmetrical contexts. The lack of an age effect in the model is likely due to the smaller number of utterances with asymmetric DOM; we inspect asymmetric contexts more closely in Section 4, and find developmental effects. Anim2:factor(PerfPart) + Marking_Symmetry:Tense + Countability:CDS_Bias, family=binomial(link=“logit”), data=subset(d1, Polarity==“pos” & O.Form2 == “NP”), control=glmerControl(optimizer=“bobyqa”, optCtrl=list(maxfun = 100000))))

Chapter 1.  Acquisition of symmetrical and asymmetrical DOM in Estonian 35

Table 6.  Final regression model for child’s use of partitive object case-marking with lexical nouns (1260 utterances)  





(Intercept) Marking_Symmetry1 CDS_Bias agegroup3 factor(PerfPart)1 Anim(inanimate) Tense(pres) Countability(mass) factor(PerfPart)1:Anim(inanimate) Marking_Symmetry1:Tense(pres) CDS_Bias:Countability(mass)

−3.1583  1.1241  4.4753  0.2944 −0.7855  0.3743  0.3331  1.8816 −3.0558 −1.7006 −1.6755

0.5753 0.4660 0.6911 0.1849 0.8247 0.3165 0.2616 0.2094 0.9232 0.5036 0.8986