Child-Directed Speech in Morphologically Complex Languages

What does child-directed speech (CDS) look like in morphologically complex languages, where children face the challenge of segmenting words into multiple meaning units? Does CDS have features that make morphology more accessible
to children learning these languages? We investigate these questions in Inuktitut, in collaboration with a team from the ACQDIV project (Acquisition Processes in Maximally Diverse Languages; led by Sabine Stoll, University of Zurich.

Inuktitut is polysynthetic with complex morphosyntax. Many concepts that appear as individual words in English (e.g. prepositions, negation) occur as morphemes in Inuktitut, and many structures that are realized in the syntax in English (e.g. desideratives, causatives) are realized through morphology in Inuktitut. Words in Inuktitut can also change from noun to verb to noun to verb, such that what would be a whole sentence in English can be expressed in one word in Inuktitut.

In this project, we investigate whether caregivers adapt their speech for young children by using fewer morphemes, restricting the use of certain types of morphemes, or restricting the use of certain types of structures. Data are taken from the spontaneous speech of the caregivers four children aged 2;0 to 3;6 learning Inuktitut as a first language.

Representative Publications
Allen, S.E.M. & Elliot, M. (2017). Learning morphemes in a morphologically complex language: Do Inuktitut-speaking parents simplify utterances to help children break into morphology? Poster at Many Paths to Language, Max Planck Institute for Psycholinguistics, Nijmegen, Netherlands.
Moran, S., Blasi, D., Schikowski, R., Küntay, A., Pfeiler, B., Allen, S., & Stoll, S. (2018). A universal cue for grammatical categories in the input to children: Frequent frames. Cognition, 175, 131-140.