Peter Jordens, Dagmar Bittner
October 28, 2017
Spontaneous language learning both in children learning their mother tongue and in adults learning a second language shows that language development proceeds in a stage-wise manner. Given that a developmental stage is defined as a coherent linguistic system, utterances of language learners can be accounted for in terms of what (Selinker, Larry. 1972. Interlanguage. International Review of Applied Linguistics 10. 209–231) referred to with the term Interlanguage. This paper is a study on the early interlanguage systems of children learning Dutch and German as their mother tongue. The present child learner systems, so it is claimed, are coherent lexical systems based on types of verb-argument structure that are either agentive (as in Dutch: kannie bal pakke ‘cannot ball get’, or German: mag nich nase putzen ‘like not nose clean’) or non-agentive (as in Dutch: popje valt bijna ‘doll falls nearly’, or in German: ente fällt ‘duck falls’). At this lexical stage, functional morphology (e. g. morphological finiteness, tense), function words (e. g. auxiliary verbs, determiners) and word order variation are absent. For these typically developing children, both in Dutch and in German, it is claimed that developmental progress is driven by the acquisition of the formal properties of topicalization. It is, furthermore, argued that this feature seems to serve as the driving force in the instantiation of the functional, i. e. informational linguistic properties of the target-language system.