Morphological simplification in Inuktitut child-directed speech - Shanley Allen & Mary Elliot

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4:45 PM, Friday 4 Oct 2019 (30 minutes)
Identifying words and morphemes in the stream of speech is no simple matter for young children. The challenge is particularly in a morphologically rich language like Inuktitut. In the present study, we explore whether and how Inuktitut-speaking parents simplify their child-directed utterances to facilitate their children’s access to morphology.

Words in Inuktitut can contain up to 10 or more morphemes and can express what would require an entire sentence in English. The lexicon contains more than 400 word-internal morphemes including tense, aspect, negation, passive, and causative, as well as over 1000 nominal and verbal inflections. Inuktitut is also agglutinative, in that the morpheme boundaries are clearly identifiable despite some morphophonological changes.

We analyzed naturalistic spontaneous speech data from interactions between four monolingual and typically developing children aged 2;0-3;6 and their parents (Allen 1996). Data were divided into three stages based on mean number of morphemes per utterance in the children’s speech (Allen, Dench & Isakson, in press). We hypothesized that caregivers would use morphologically simpler structures in earlier than later stages.

Results showed that words contained fewer morphemes at earlier stages, that fewer polysynthetic structures were used at earlier stages, and that noun incorporation and tense/aspect structures were less complex at earlier stages. We conclude that caregivers simplify the morphological complexity of Inuktitut in certain ways at early stages of development to help with language learning. We will address both methodological and theoretical issues arising from the study including ways to investigate this simplification more precisely.

University of Kaiserslautern

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