Acquisition of Modal Expressions by Children in a Cross-Linguistic Perspective

TSU, 107 - 14.15-14.40

The distinction between real und imaginary events manifests in the split of verb forms into modal and non-modal ones early in ontogenesis, however, cross-linguistic investigations of its acquisition are few. I am going to present some preliminary results of the new study on the acquisition of modality to be published under the title  “Development of Modality in First Language Acquisition A Cross-Linguistic Perspective” edited by U. Stephany, A. Aksu-Ko─Ź and M.D. Voeikova. The new book is prepared by an international team of authors basing themselves on the data from sixteen typologically different languages of various genetic affiliations of the Altaic, American Indian, Indo-European, Finno-Ugric, Korean, and Semitic language families. In a cross-linguistic and typological study of the acquisition of modality, the respective development of the semantic domains of agent-oriented and propositional modality on the one hand and the acquisition of inflectional vs. lexical expressions of modal notions on the other are among the most promising topics of inquiry. The productive use of grammaticized means of the expression of modal notions marks an important achievement in terms of language acquisition. Besides a certain stage of cognitive development, the relevant factors of early acquisition are linguistic structure and language usage as these are reflected in child directed speech. As far as the developmental order of the expression of modal notions is concerned, it can be stated that the first distinction to emerge in the language of children acquiring different languages is that between verb forms marked for agent-oriented modality and non-modal ones (e.g., imperative vs. present/past tense). In languages in which propositional modality is expressed inflectionally as in Turkish or by obligatory particles as in Korean, the asynchrony between the emergence of agent-oriented and propositional modality is less marked.