Grammatical alternates: the interplay of frequency, markendess, and derivation in language acquisition

Possessive alternates (prenominal and postnominal) have mirrored properties in Italian and Norwegian when taking into consideration frequency, derivation, and markedness, i.e., the variant that is base-generated in one language is considered the derived one in the other language. 

Previous studies have shown that Italian children acquire the contextual use (markedness) of the variants with ease, whereas Norwegian children were found to overuse the marked variant. Here, we reanalyse the co-occurrences of the possessive and the noun in the monolingual corpora for the two languages available on CHILDES, by focusing more attentively on the contextual use of the variants, to reveal whether the same principles underly the acquisition process.

Our findings contradict the previous claims on the acquisition of Italian but are in line with the previous findings for Norwegian. Both groups of children overuse the marked but base-generated variant, indicating the relevance of syntactic economy in language acquisition.