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Abstract Hickmann et al.

Typological constraints on the acquisition of spatial language in French and English

Satellite-framed and verb-framed languages vary a great deal in how they package and distribute spatial information by lexical and grammatical means (Talmy, 2000). Recent developmental research shows that children’s language acquisition is constrained by these typological properties from an early age on. The relative role of such constraints in language and cognitive development is presently the locus of much debate (Bowerman & Choi, 2003; Bowerman, in press; Slobin, 1996, 2003, in press). In this context we examine motion in French child language in two corpora: 1) spontaneous productions during early phases of acquisition (from 18 months to three years); 2) experimentally induced productions during later phases of development (children of three to ten years, adults). Cross-linguistic analyses comparing these data with English corpora show very different patterns in how speakers express motion at all ages. English speakers express multiple types of information (path, manner, cause) in compact structures, while French speakers show several patterns, depending on age and on the particular situations described: they express less information, focus on path and/or distribute information across clauses in discourse. Children’s productions in both languages also show an increase in information density, suggesting the additional role of universal general determinants in acquisition. The discussion highlights the joint impact of cognitive and typological factors on language acquisition, and raises questions to be addressed in further research concerning the relation between language and cognition during development.