The Acquisition Phenomenon of Null and Overt Subjects in the Early Speech of Arabic-Speaking Children

Author: Fawaz Ali Ahmed Qasem

Keywords: Null Subject Languages (NSLs), overt subject, Yemeni Ibbi Arabic (YIA), null subject

DOI: DOI: 10.26478/ja2020.8.12.5

This paper examines the early acquisition of null subjects and overt subjects and how they are distributed and realized in the early speech of Arabic dialect-speaking children.① The study accounts for the phenomenon of subjects by examining a longitudinal corpus of two children, Wala and Ibraheem, who were around two years old, speaking Yemeni Ibbi Arabic (YIA) dialect. The production and elicited production data collection methods were used in the study to collect the corpus during five months. The results of the study showed that null-subjects appear with a high proportion compared to the overt subjects. It was found that null subjects and overt subjects in the speech of Ibraheem and Wala had a similar distribution in the imperfective and the perfective, of which 86-87% are null subjects and 12-14% are overt subjects. The paper examined the widespread linguistic phenomenon of Null Subject Parameter acquisition, (Rizzi, 1982; Hyams, 1986, 1989) that is emergence of null subjects in line with overt subjects. The paper supports Hyam’s (1982) argument on the acquisition of Null Subject Parameter where we can find children acquire null subjects early around 2 years of age. In contrast to non-null subject languages (like English), Null Subject Languages (NSLs) like Arabic happen to have null subjects appear more frequently and this is due to the rich inflectional morphology of NSLs.