South African Journal of African Languages

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Uninterpretable features in comprehension: Subject-verb agreement in isiXhosa

Mantoa Rose Smouse


The generally held belief in language acquisition is that comprehension precedes production. As such, it is generally expected that a child will first learn the rules associated with a certain construction before producing it. Whereas this is the logical way of thinking about language acquisition, certain areas of language do not conform to this symmetry. The asymmetry observed between production and comprehension in child language acquisition continues to fuel studies from various language groups. In line with these studies, this study tested the comprehension of subject-verb agreement and absolute pronouns by 37 isiXhosa-speaking children aged 4;0 to 6;0. The results of the study reveal an asymmetry between production and comprehension of the subject agreement marker (SM) and absolute pronouns as well as significant differences in accuracy between the comprehension of the SM and that of absolute pronouns. We adopt Reuland’s (2001) model of levels of derivation as well as the economy principle (Chomsky, 1995) to explain the asymmetry observed.

South African Journal of African Languages 2013, 33(1): 65–74
AJOL African Journals Online