Linguistics in Göttingen - A platform for empirical and theoretical linguistics

Natascha Müller (Berische Universität Wuppertal): Growth, Learning and Training: Romance Gender at the Crossroads

Recently, Uriagereka (2007) has suggested three progressively deeper forms of variation which are important for the architecture of the language faculty: Core Parameters, Sub-Case Parameters, Peripheral Variation (cf. also Kayne 2005). The forms of variation will be illustrated by using data from monolingual and bilingual children learning Romance languages. It will be discussed what forms of variation Romance gender constitutes by observing how the child acquires it. The languages which will be addressed are French, Italian, Spanish (and German). Core Parameters are not manipulated by disadvantageous input conditions which e.g. bilingual children find if their heritage language is not supported by society. Furthermore, the acquisition data reveals that such parameters are set for both values very early in life, without favouring one of two values due to markedness. In a nutshell, Core Parameters in generative theorizing are set on the basis of genetic endowment and a minimum of experience.

The second form of variation relates to I-language and is captured by the notion of Micro-Parameter or Sub-Case-Parameter. Micro-parametric choices presuppose a distinction between a marked and an unmarked value. One consequence is that the marked option should take longer to acquire.Uriagereka (2007: 108) uses the term “learning” for the setting of suchparameters. The existence of an unmarked value does not prevent the childfrom setting this sort of parameters early in life.
There is more variation in language than just those differences described bythe parametric settings. “Each actual “language” will incorporate aperiphery of borrowings, historical residues, inventions, and so on” (Chomsky 1981:8). Age, sex, prestige and other factors determine the kind ofvariation. Not much is known about how children acquire this kind of variation which surely exists due to the sociological dimensions of language (use). Uriagereka (2007: 108) uses the term “training” for the acquisition of peripheral aspects of language.