How are prepositional and double object constructions represented in the mind of English-Spanish bilingual children at the early stages of acquisition?

Silvia Sánchez Calderón (University of Valladolid Language Acquisition Lab, Spain) and Raquel Fernández Fuertes (University of Valladolid Language Acquisition Lab, Spain) 

Key words: double object, prepositional structure, bilingual acquisition, emergence, adult input, production

English (1) and Spanish (2) prepositional structures that alternate as double object constructions (DOCs) have been formally accounted for in different ways. In English, the debate focuses on whether to/for-datives (1a) are the source structure of DOCs (1b) (Larson 1988), or whether DOCs are the original structure instead (Aoun and Li 1989; Haspelmath 2006). Proposals like that of Snyder and Stromswold (1997) and Snyder (2001) establish a common underlying configuration as complex predicates.

1.           a. John sends a letter to Mary [to-dative]

               b. John sends Mary a letter[DOC]

              [Larson 1988: 343-353]

In Spanish, a/para-datives (2a) are analyzed as the source construction of the Dative-Clitic-Doubled ones (DCLDs) (2b) in which an a-DP doubles a clitic (Cuervo 2007, 2003; Demonte 1995, 1994).

2.           a. Entregué las llaves al conserje [a-dative]

               b. Le entregué las llaves al conserje [DCLD]

    [Demonte 1995: 6]

We analyze the emergence and the use of prepositional and double object structures in English-Spanish bilinguals’ data to shed light on (i) how syntax is shaped in the two languages and for these specific constructions; and (ii) the possible syntactic relation the two pairs of structures have as seen in acquisition. Data come from 4 longitudinal corpora in CHILDES (MacWhinney 2000) and both the input and the spontaneous production of 9 English-Spanish bilingual children (ages: 1;01-6;11) are analyzed. Results show that double object and prepositional constructions emerge at a similar age (t(4)=-1.858, p=.160 in English; t(5)=-2.029,p=.135 in Spanish), as per Snyder’s proposal that the two structures are not derivationally related, and this is possibly so for the two languages. Developmentally, double objects show a higher use than prepositional constructions (t(8)=-4.335, p=.002 in English; t(8)=-3.873, p=.004 in Spanish) and this difference could be explained by adult input effects.


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