October 2, 2014

Guest speaker: Luiz Amaral (UMass Amherst)

We are pleased to be about to welcome Luiz Amaral from the University of Massachusetts, Amherst. He works on multilingualism, L2, applied linguistics, and the indigenous languages of Brazil.

His talk will be on Friday October 10, in SS 560A, beginning at 3:15 PM: Recursion in acquisition: Theoretical questions and experimental design based on Wapichana, English, and Portuguese data.

In the last decade, the debate about the role of recursion in human languages (e.g., Hauser et al., 2002; Everett, 2005) also inspired research on the acquisition of recursive constructions (Roeper and Snyder, 2004; Hollebrandse et al., 2008; Limbach and Adone, 2010; Perez-Leroux et al., 2012). Although the controversy on whether recursion is a universal operation present in all human languages was inspired by data from a native Brazilian language (Pirahã), there is currently a big void in acquisition studies focusing on recursion in indigenous languages of Brazil.

In this presentation I will show some data from three different comprehension experiments in Wapichana, an Arawak language spoken in Brazil and Guyana. Wapichana is an SVO language with some head final constructions, which allows for relative clauses such as in (1) and (2).  

(1)  Py=aida   un=at  daunaiur tyka-pa       uraz  zyn kaiwada-pa  uraz  kuwam.
     2ps-show  1ps-to boy         look-PROG REL  girl  wear-PROG REL hat. 

    ‘Show me the boy that is seeing the girl that is wearing a hat.’
(2)  Py=aida   un=at  waru-nau  kanawa dia’a uraz ky’ba paawa’a uraz.
      2ps-show 1ps-to  parrot-PL canoe    in      REL rock  on           REL. 

    ‘Show me the parrots that are in the canoe that is on the rock.’
I will present an analysis of the internal structure of multiple embedded relative clauses and genitive constructions in Wapichana, and I will provide data that shows the preferred interpretation patterns by adult speakers and bilingual children who speak Wapichana/English and Wapichana/Portuguese. I will also present the preliminary results of an interpretation experiment for English embedded relatives and show how they compare to the Wapichana data. During the talk I will discuss possible theoretical ideas about the acquisition of recursion both as a syntactic operation and as a general property of the grammar that is linked to specific rules. 

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