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Title: The study on first language acquisition is always a delight...

The study on first language acquisition is always
a delight...
  • Overview of the system of inflectional morphology
    of Estonian
  • Acquisition of inflectional types and patterns
    Acquisition of analytic and synthetic,
    agglutinating and fusional formation and some
    notes concerning the impact of morphological
    richness of the input language on acquisition
  • Acquisition of case
  • Acquisition of tense
  • Acquisition of aspect
  • Communication styles of Estonian children and

  • Estonian language belongs to the Finnic group of
    the Finno-Ugric language family
  • 1,1 million speakers
  • Estonian language developed on the basis of
    dialects spoken in the Estonian area in 13th-16th
    centuries, Standard Estonian started to develop
    in the 16th century. Estonian was the official
    language of the Republic of Estonia in 1919-1940
    and regained this status once again in 1988.

Why to study the acquisition of first language?
  • To understand the essential nature of the
  • is the language mainly for communication?
  • or is it for thinking?
  • is the language something that happens with us or
    something we learn step by step?
  • if the language is something we learn, how do we
    learn it so quickly at so early age?

How do we learn a language?
  • If we learn a language by just imitating the
    language we hear, why do we make mistakes we
    never hear in the input?
  • Why do children start speaking differently one
    with sentences, another with just stems
    constructing a language peace by peace?
  • Why can children in the same family even, for
    example, twins of triplets, acquire language in a
    different way?

Why to study the acquisition of first language?
  • To help children with SLI (Specific language
    impairment, 7 of population, need help before
    6), to spot children with SLI, and to help them
    to acquire the language
  • To help those who are acquiring the foreign
    language (if a 1-2 year old child can acquire a
    structure of a given language, there must be a
    universal and very simple acquisition procedure
    for acquiring this structure).

And why to study the acquisition of Estonian
Why is the acquisition of Estonian different from
the acquisition of English, for example?
  • The languages are different
  • amount of morphology,
  • importance of word order,
  • gradation in Estonian, no future, no gender, a
    lot of cases etc.
  • To understand how and to what extent the
    structure of language itself can influence the
    acquisition course and speed.

Short description of Estonian language from
typological perspective
  • The Estonian language has developed historically
    from an agglutinating to a more fusional language
    type (Erelt 2003 7) and, as is common in
    inflecting-fusional languages, there is often no
    clear boundary between the stem and a grammatical
    formative (Erelt et al. 1995 129).
  • For example only 10 of nouns have an
    unchangeable stem in all their inflectional forms
    (Erelt et al. 1995 156).
  • Therefore, phonological changes of the stem are
    very important in the inflection of Estonian
    nouns. (Erelt et al. 1995 129).

Phonological changes in stems
  • Gradation in Estonian includes on the one hand
    alternation in quantity, in which a phonetically
    stronger stem shape (strong grade/3rd degree of
    length), alternates with a phonetically weaker
    one (the weak grade/2nd degree of length)
  • for example vanni bathGEN Q2 vs. vanni
    bathILLAT Q3
  • On the other hand, there is alternation in
    quality, which is mostly reflected in the change,
    assimilation or loss of a single onset obstruent
    of the second syllable in the weak grade.
  • for example nägu 'faceNOM' gt näo 'faceGEN'

How children start to acquire a language?
  • The process of language acquisition takes place
    quite in a similar way in many languages, but
    still there are some differences between
  • Estonian children start usually to acquire the
    language from reduplication and onomatopoeia.

Onomatopoeia An interesting part of Estonian
lexicon which is important in early language
  • Estonian language as also Finnish has a big
    amount of onomatopoetic words. All these words
    are not loanwords and the formation of such words
    is still productive.
  • For example the are so called open strings of
    such words kolisema gt kilisema gt kõlisema gt
    kulisema - by modifying the stem vowel we can
    modify the sound.
  • Onomatopoeia is frequently used in the input to
    small children for animals (muu, auh-auh,
    krooks-krooks, mjäu), for machines (viu-viu,
    põrr-põrr), etc.

Onomatopoeia and the acquisition of Estonian
  • Onomatopoetic words are the first words in the
    child's speech already at the end of babbling
    period. In Estonian usually at age 010-12.
  • Among very first imitatives are words for
    familiar animals, for example, a dog (auh-auh
    Hendrik at age 10). The meaning of such an early
    word can change at first the word denoted only
    our own dog, a month later also other dogs, some
    time later all furry animals and things, even a
    piece of cotton wool, and after two months it was
    used only for referring to our own dog, other
    dogs were referred by standard word koer.

Onomatopoeia and the input
  • Onomatopoetic words have highly socio-cultural
    value. They are a part of the communication style
    used when speaking with small children. They are
    used in songs and rhymes and in everyday routines
    (mõmm-mõmm mõmm-mõmm nutab karujõmm,
    mull-mull-mull-mull väiksed kalad).
  • Onomatopoetic words are used not only by mothers
    but also by fathers (although they do not usually
    admit it).
  • The use of onomatopoeia is changing when the
    child is growing for example - at child's age
    10 the mother uses construction teeb kop-kop
    'make-3SG knock-knock', but when the child is 17
    there is the verb koputama 'to knock' in the
    speech of the mother. While there were both
    variants occurring in the speech of the mother
    several months (from 13-16).

Onomatopoeia and the acquisition of grammar
  • Imitatives are not inflecting, they don't have
    morphology. So, the child can use these words
    without knowing anything about inflectional rules
    or patterns. Imitatives are like ready-to-use
    pieces of language system at the child's age when
    grammar hasn't started to develop. (For example
    teeb kiiga-kaaga, teeb piip-piip, teeb ai-ai,
    teeb mämm-mämm)?
  • Onomatopoetic words are reduplicative (tuut-tuut,
    kop-kop), and reduplicative elements are used
    when the child has not yet started to acquire the
    grammar. Reduplication helps the child to
    recognize the boundary of the syllable and to
    identify the meaningful piece of the speech flow.

The task for the child the system of
inflectional morphology of Estonian
  • In Estonian, nominals, i.e. nouns, adjectives,
    numerals and pronouns, are all inflected for
    number and case.
  • Estonian has 14 nominal cases, both in the
    singular and plural.
  • A nominal paradigm may contain case forms
    consisting of the bare stem or suffixed stems.
  • Verbs have finite forms and non-finite forms.
    Finite forms are inflected for mood, tense,
    voice, person, and number.

When do Estonian children start to acquire
  • Estonian children start to acquire morphology
    after age 12 and before age 20.
  • The first productive forms of the oblique case of
    the noun appear in the speech of the Estonian
    child as early as at the age of 17,
    (partitives) the first verb forms (simple
    present, simple past) become productive somewhat
    later, at the age of 19.
  • The richer inflection is in the input, the more
    stimulated children are to develop inflection in
    this domain, and the more rapid is development
    (Dressler et al. 2007 69).
  • Children acquiring an agglutinating language
    develop the inflectional system most rapidly
    (Laaha Gillis 2007).

How can (s)he manage with such a difficult task?
  • She starts from highly functional oppositions of
    two most frequent forms, for example nominative
    and partitive or imperative and simple past.
  • Nominative can be used for pointing to something
    and partitive for demanding something.
  • Imperative is used for giving orders and simple
    past is used for telling of something has

Some things are easier to acquire
  • What makes things easier to acquire?
  • simple and transparent structure of a language
  • simple and transparent way to make forms
  • input frequency

Gradation is typologically a very specific
feature of Estonian
  • Phonological changes in stems are principally of
    two kinds
  • gradation changes (affecting the root and medial
    sounds) and
  • other changes (omission, addition and ordering
    changes of final phonemes)?
  • In addition, there are some suppletive stems
  • When the stem is subject to gradation it will
    occur in strong or weak forms in different
    grades in the case of a change concerning the
    final phoneme there will be different final
    phonemes in different case forms (Erelt et al.
    1995 130).

At first sight...
  • ...the gradation can be considered to be a
    language-specific factor that might hamper the
    acquisition of the inflectional system because in
    the case of gradational words a child has to
    select a suitable stem shape in addition to a
    suitable suffix.
  • There are a lot of frequent words with grade
    alternation in the input, but gradation is
    sometimes avoided in child-directed speech by
    numerous diminutive derivatives where a
    non-gradational word has been derived from an
    originally gradational word
  • koer dog gt kutsu doggy kass cat gt kiisu

  • ...Estonian children acquire quantity alternation
    at an early age and use it to distinguish between
    two case forms already during the stage when they
    have not acquired the case suffixes.
  • For example, functional oppositions of
  • 1) genitive piti (pildi) 'picture' Q2 and the
    partitive pitti (pilti) Q3 (18)?
  • 2) illative nanni (vanni) (into) bath Q3 and
    nanni- (vannis) (in) bath Q2
  • linna into townQ3 and linna in town Q2
  • Functional oppositions for expressing important
    semantic roles like direction and location or
    possessor and object.

Almost errorless acquisition of gradation
  • No overgeneralizations and errors in the
    acquisition of grade alternation were found, only
    few errors appeared in case forms with quality
    alternation e.g. nuga-ga 'knife-COM' instead of
    noa-ga, käsi-ga 'hand-COM' instead of käe-ga.
  • The functionality of a phenomenon plays the most
    significant role in the acquisition of grade
    alternation, that is, if a word form in a weak or
    strong quantity distinguishes important
    grammatical meanings (without making words longer
    than 2 syllables!) and if grade alternation is
    also frequent, that is, it occurs in those words
    that are most frequent in child-directed speech,
    then such a phenomenon is acquired early and
    without errors.

Acquisition of case
  • The case system is often regarded as one of the
    most difficult aspects of Estonian grammar there
    are many cases, a single case often has several
    different allomorphs and the inflectional classes
    of nouns are not always simple or regular.
  • In spite of the fact that the agglutinating case
    formation is not complicated in most cases
    historical developments have produced
    unpredictable stem changes (especially in the
    partitive and illative cases).

First words and first forms
  • Estonian child usually starts to inflect words
    when she has at least 50 words in her lexicon.
  • At the beginning almost all nouns are in the
    nominative, only few lexemes occur in the
    partitive and genitive. The next cases are the
    illative and inessive (age 18110). There are
    no instances of marginal cases in children's
    speech at early stage.

First rote-learned forms and oppositions
  • Although some adult-like forms of nouns carrying
    a suffix do occur already in the premorphological
    phase, most of the first rote-learned case forms
    do not carry a suffix.
  • In such forms, the category of case is expressed
    by the stem variant corresponding to the case
    form and its function in Standard Estonian.
  • The first forms of nouns contrasting with the
    nominative are usually forms of other grammatical
    cases, namely the partitive and genitive some
    instances of the nominative opposed to the
    illative or comitative forms of a given lexeme
    are also found.

Acquisition of analytic and synthetic,
agglutinating and fusional formation
  • There is some evidence that agglutinating
    formation can be acquired more easily than
    fusional formation technique not only in general,
    but also within one language because of its
  • For example tüdruku-te-ga 'girl-Pl-COM'
  • The acquisition of a morphological system is
    easier if inflectional markers in a word form are
    ordered so that each suffix corresponds to a
    specific grammatical category in case a suffix
    carries several grammatical meanings, it is more
    difficult to acquire the inflected form (see
    Voeikova 2002).

Agglutination vs Fusion
  • For example, it can be supposed that it would be
    easier to acquire the agglutinating partitive
    form tüdruku-i-d 'girl-PL-PRTV'
  • than the form maja-sid 'housePL.PRTV' where
    partitive and plural are mixed into one suffix.
  • It is possible to use different formation
    techniques for a partitive plural
  • 1) the fusional stem plural maja (houseNOM) gt
    maju (housePLPRTV)?
  • 2) form with the cumulative formative, the
    sid-marker maja-sid (house-PLPRTV)?
  • 3) agglutinating i-plural forms raamat
    (bookNOM) gt raamatu-i-d (book-PL-PRTV).

But how it actually happens Acquisition order of
different partitive plural types
  • 1. First partitive plural form lilli flowers
    was the fusional stem plural, at the age of 18,
    fusional formation productively used at age 20.
  • 2. The fusional sid-formative, maja-sid
    house-PLPRTV, patarei-sid batterie- PLPRTV
    at the age of 20, productively used at 20.
  • 3. The agglutinating i-formative appeared at age
    20, katule-i-d potato-PL-PRTV), the use of the
    i-plural productive only at 24.

What makes the acquisition of fusional partitive
plural easier to acquire
  • 1. Lexical patterns
  • First partitive plural nouns occurred often in a
    quantifier construction (palju loomi a lot of
  • 2. Phonological factors
  • a) Trochaic stage - the speech of an Estonian
    child consists of less than 10 words which are
    longer than 2 syllables at age 20. Towards the
    end of the trochaic stage, from 20 the child
    begins to use also sid-marked and agglutinating
    i-plural forms, which make the words longer than
    two syllables.
  • b) Inability to pronounce a closed non-initial
    syllable - no words with closed non-initial
    syllables were found before the age of 20.
  • 3. Input frequency 60 of the partitive plural
    forms in child-directed speech represent fusional

Error Analysis Partitive plural
  • In the case of the stem plural the plural differs
    from the singular only by the stem vowel.
  • On the one hand, it is easy to make a distinction
    between the singular and the plural because the
    plural form has a different final vowel, on the
    other hand, the conditions of vowel alternations
    complicate matters.
  • Many mistakes were made in the choice of the
    correct stem vowel, especially in a-stem words,
    as silme instead of silmi eyePL.PRTV at age
    26, kinge instead of kingi shoePL.PRTV at
    age 28.

Partitive plural
  • The formation of the partitive plural by the
    cumulative formative -sid revealed only some
    mistakes onu-seid instead of onu-sid
    uncle-PL.PRTV and tädi-seid instead of
    tädi-sid aunt-PL.PRTV at the age of 26.
  • Analogy of ne-words (punane gt punase-i-d
  • A child declines the adjective võõras strange
    similarly to typical Estonian ne-ending
    adjectives (e.g. punane punase-i-d
    red-PL-PRTV). A child was able to form fusional
    partitive plural forms without any mistakes only
    at the age of 30.
  • Estonian children acquire the fusional vowel
    plural earlier than the agglutinating plural, but
    error analysis shows that the correct use of the
    fusional technique poses more difficulties for a

Rote-learned forms are followed by miniparadigms
  • Miniparadigms are sets of most important forms of
    the same stem.
  • The first miniparadigms are clearly lexeme-based
    there is a certain choice of case forms for each
  • Thus, the noun kast box is used in the
    genitive, inessive and elative (Andreas at age
    20) while other lexemes may be used with
    different cases.
  • For some pragmatically important lexemes, such as
    issi daddy, emme mummy, piss pee-pee, see
    this, the child needs more forms while for
    others, three seem to suffice (e.g. müts hat).
  • Adverb-like nouns usually have only two local
    case forms, illative and inessive (e.g. õue
    (to go) outsideNOM and õue-s (to be)
    outside-INESS) tuppa roomILL( (to go)
    inside) vs. toas room-INESS ( (to be) inside)
    Andreas 21).

  • The choice of case forms appearing in
    miniparadigms seems to depend on the semantic
    category of the noun.
  • There are three main kinds of miniparadigms to be
    found in Andreas data at 26
  • miniparadigms of nouns for food containing three
    grammatical cases (e.g. pähkli nutGEN,
    pähkli-d nut-NOMPL, pähklei-d
  • miniparadigms of animated nouns and baby-talk
    words containing grammatical cases and the
    allative (e.g. issi daddyNOM issi daddyGEN
    issi-t daddy-PARTIT issi-le daddy-ALL)
    and finally
  • miniparadigms of words expressing location
    consisting of two or more local cases (e.g.
    sahtli-sse drawer-ILL, sahtli-s drawer-INESS,
    sahtli-st drawer-ELAT.

Abundance of inflectional types and patterns and
the speed of acquisition of morphology
  • Estonian has many inflectional classes and a
    quite complex morphophonology. Children use
    different strategies to simplify this complicated
    inflectional system.
  • One such strategy is the overextension of a
    regular inflectional pattern to irregular nouns.
    At 20, Andreas forms the partitive of the
    irregular noun juhe wireNOM based on the
    genitive stem juhtme, as is usual with regularly
    inflecting nouns without grade alternation,
    producing juhtme-t instead of juhe-t
    wire-PARTIT without quality alternation.

Abundance of inflectional types and patterns and
the speed of acquisition of morphology II
  • A child does not acquire all inflectional
    patterns at once rather at first (s)he picks up
    those words in child-directed speech that belong
    only to certain (extremely productive)
    inflectional types
  • preferred inflectional types are highly frequent
    inflectional types in the input language and
    productive and open types. For example the type
    with monosyllabic gradational words with
    weakening stems, model word sepp blacksmith),
    e.g. poeg son, lill flower, klots block.

Children acquire only some of these types at first
Rate of the acquisition of case
  • Estonian children have acquired the core of
    Estonian case system (7-10 cases of 14) and the
    core of verbal inflectional system - all persons,
    simple present and past, past perfect (in
    indicative, imperative voice) at age 30 .
  • The number of cases in a language does not play
    a special role at the early stage of acquisition
    because a child does not acquire all the cases at
    a time but only the core at first (Voeikova
    2002 3437)?

Acquisition of case from first rote-learned forms
to miniparadigms
  • What was supposed to make the acquisition
  • Were these factors really making the acquisition
    process difficult?
  • What makes the acquisition easier?

Acquisition of Tense
  • Why to study the acquisition of tense?
  • to understand how children start to acquire
    temporal relations, for example, how they start
    to differentiate past from non-past
  • tense morphology has been a most vulnerable area
    of language system for children with SLI

Tense in Estonian
  • Estonian has a comparatively small core tense
    system. In traditional grammars of Estonian
    language, four tenses are distinguished.
  • Estonian has no morphological form for the
    future, which is expressed with present tense
    form and by some kind of lexical means.
  • Present tense is unmarked kuku-n 'fall-1Sg'.
  • Imperfect uses agglutinative means in indicative
    (kukku-si-n 'fall-PAST-1Sg') and analytic means
    in other moods and analytic means also in
  • Perfect and past perfect use analytic means.

How I studied the acquisition tense
  • Experiment
  • Design the road and three landmarks on the road
    referring to the past, present and future, the
    protagonist who has to perform the same action
    near these landmarks.
  • Comprehension and production Sentences in
    comprehension were presented to the child and she
    had to point to one of landmarks. The beginnings
    of these sentences were presented to the child in
    production part and child had to elicit these
  • COMPREHENSION The king was snoring ...
  • PRODUCTION Near the plant the king ...
  • TEST!

Comprehension (N20, aged 50-60)
  • Children can understand present.
  • They can not fully understand past and future,
    but they still have started to acquire these
  • There could be a initial present-centered
    tense-system for children (they start to
    differentiate tenses from one big present tense
    system - me-here-now)?

Production (N20, age 50-60)?
  • Children produce correctly past, but no present
    and future.
  • Why?

Future in Estonian
  • Present tense form
  • Present tense form time adverbial
  • Periphrastic construction to start to....
  • Perphrastic construction to go to...
  • Only last two options are grammaticalized as a
    future forms tense
  • Three last options are differentiable from the

ProductionTenses used
Conclusions acquisition of tense
  • The design of the experiment can influence the
    use of past tense in present situations.
  • There is no uniform present-centered tense-system
    in the acquisition of Estonian.
  • The future was interesting children used a lot
    of negative constructions (has not done yet, has
    not snored, is not snoring) they differentiate
    future from present using past! The future is
    problematic also cognitively you have not seen
    the situation yet, how can you decide if the
    action will take place or not...
  • The tense is not acquired at age 50-60 in

Aspect some general remarks
  • Similarly to the other Finno-Ugric languages, the
    aspect in Estonian has not developed into a
    consistent grammatical category. The aspect can
    be expressed by means of progressive and
    resultative constructions (mostly with adverbs
    and verb particles) as well as by the case
    alternation of the object.
  • The case alternation of the object is a
    manifestation of the aspect expressed by
    grammatical means in Estonian. It is the most
    regular means of expressing the aspect in

The choice of the object case...
  • determined
  • 1) by the perfectivity or imperfectivity of the
    action and,
  • 2) by the quantitative boundedness or
    non-boundedness of the object item.
  • The total object (object in the genitive or the
    nominative) is used when both the action and the
    object item are bounded, and the partial object
    (object in the partitive case) is used when the
    action, object item, or both are unbounded (Erelt
    et al. 1995 5152 Tamm 2004 29).
  • Thus, the Estonian object may occur in three
    grammatical cases
  • the partial object in the partitive,
  • and the total object in the genitive (singular)
    and the nominative.

What was my question?
  • Case alternation is a very difficult part of
    Estonian grammar for learners of Estonian as a
    second language. - is it difficult also for
  • When do Estonian children acquire case
  • Would it be easier in certain kinds of
    situations or not?

How I studied the acquisition of aspect
  • Experiment comprehension and production
  • Four conditions Completed situation Perfective
    form, Completed situation Imperfective form,
    Incompleted situation Imperfective form,
    Incompleted situation Perfective form
  • Two conditions in production test Completed
    situation and Incompleted situation
  • Tense is constant (past), aspect (genitive -
    partitive form) varies
  • Situation is presented visually (video clips) in
    comprehension test the child must decide if the
    sentence is tru or not, in production test
    children must elicit sentences
  • There are some triggers between test items to
    keep the child's attention on the task.
  • TEST!

  • Video
  • Comprehension
  • Introduction Here is a clown, he has to draw
    several things. Sometimes she will get ready
    sometimes not. At first the sun.
  • Trigger When the music stopped, was the pencil
    touching the board?
  • Question (Com-I) While the music was playing the
    clown was drawing the sun. True or not?
  • Production
  • Introduction Now the moon. Tell me about the
    moon and drawing.
  • Test sentence While the music was playing the

Results control group (N20)Comprehension
Children (N20, age 50-60)Comprehension
Correct answers with different verbs
  • What is the common feature of verbs with low
  • What kind of conclusions we can draw of these

Answers and verbs (and objects)?
Conclusions about the experiment used
  • Estonian children acquire the case alternation
    (the aspect) quite late, after age 5.
  • The semantics of used verbs is extremely
    important! So the aspect in Estonian can not be
    considered to be fully grammaticized in the case
  • There is some inconsistent use of case
    alternation also in adult data.

Conclusion How does the Estonian Child Acquire
Estonian language
  • The richness of the Estonian morphological system
    stimulates the acquisition of inflectional
    morphology at an early age, whereas the large
    number of inflectional types and patterns does
    not slow down the acquisition of morphology.
  • The child uses the so-called compensatory
    strategies for copying with a fragmented system
    of inflectional patterns and restricts at first
    the number of inflectional types to two or three
    most productive and most frequent types in
    child-directed speech.

How does the Estonian Child Acquire Estonian
language II
  • Grade alternation, which is a characteristic
    feature of the Finnic languages, is acquired at
    an early age, whereas quantity alternation is
    acquired earlier than quality alternation.
  • A child acquiring the Estonian language starts to
    pay attention to the case alternation of the
    object, that is, to use both the partial and the
    total object with one and the same verb, rather
    early, but the correct choice of the object case
    will be acquired as late as at the age of six.

  • When coping with the categories and the large
    number of inflectional patterns, the child uses
    the acquisition of an initial restricted system
    as a compensatory strategy.
  • On the other hand, in the case of morphologically
    complicated forms (partitive plural) and the
    choice of the case of the object or the
    acquisition of the most difficult rule the child
    relies on some special lexical pattern.
  • It can be claimed, however, that in the case of
    all the studied structures a child begins the
    acquisition of Estonian inflectional morphology
    from those parts of the language that are
    typologically characteristic, unmarked, and
    central. Parts of language structure which are
    not stable (case alternation in objects), are
    acquired later.