The Strong Continuity Hypothesis: Evidence from Arabic-speaking children data

Author: Fawaz Ali Ahmed Qasem

Keywords: verbal agreement inflections, Yemeni Ibbi Arabic, strong continuity hypothesis, very early knowledge of inflection

DOI: 10.26478/ja2019.7.11.3

This paper examines the acquisition of subject-verb agreement inflections in the natural speech corpus of two mono-lingual children speaking Yemeni Ibbi Arabic (YIA) between 2 and 3 years old. The two children are Ibrahim and Wala (between the age of 2;1 and 2;10) with Mean Lenghth of Utterance (MLU) range of 2.72 to 3.23 for Ibrahim and 2.9 to 3.27 for Wala. YIA, as a variety of Arabic, has rich and complex morphological system with a fusional type. Verbs are inflected with tense and agreement. Each verbal inflection is marked for person, number, and gender agreement. However, this paper attempts to explore how agreement forms are acquired by YIA-speaking children and examines when YIA children distinguish between first, second, and third person agreement, singular and plural, masculine and feminine agreement forms. The paper argues that agreement inflections (person, number, gender) are available to children early, thereby supporting the Strong Continuity Hypothesis (Lust, 1999). Moreover, the results give evidence to Wexler’s Hypothesis (1998), Very Early Knowledge of Inflection (VEKI), which says that children know the grammatical and phonological properties of inflections in a language in the earliest stages when they enter the two-word stage. Similarly, this study tests Hoekstra and Hyams’ (1995) Early Morpho-syntactic Convergence (EMC) which proposed that children acquire the specifics of inflections of the target language at an early stage.