Ditransitives structures in adult and child language: The role of animacy and givenness

This dissertation explores the effects that a semantic factor, animacy, and a pragmatic factor, givenness, have on the relative ordering of the two objects (IO-DO vs. DO-IO) in Croatian ditransitive structures. While the effects of animacy are explored only at a global level (object ordering), the effects of givenness are explored also in the choice of referring expressions. The effect that these factors have is explored both in adult and child language in a way that offers valuable insights for both groups. This research provides a new analysis in the acquisition of ditransitive structures as it reveals a major role of animacy in shaping children’s object order.

The results show that when the two factors are neutralised, there is an indication of DO-IO being the basic object order. Conversely, I find that the IO-DO is more frequently used both in naturalistic and in experimental data, but this frequency can be attributed to the fact that in double object structures the IO is prototypically animate and the DO is prototypically inanimate. I argue that both adults and children are sensitive to animacy, but children are more sensitive to it than adults. With regard to givenness, I find that it influences both object order and choice of referring expression in the adults, but only the choice of referring expression in the children’s data.


Keywords: ditransitive structures, animacy, givenness, word order, referring expressions, language acquisition, Croatian