The Acquisition of Malay Wh-Questions
Nanyang Technological University, Singapore
The purpose of this study is to provide an account of children's acquisition of wh-questions in the variety of Malay spoken in Singapore. The work examines how children acquire colloquial Malay, the language to which they are exposed at home and in the speech community before they are taught the standard, formal language in school. It is intended to be a contribution to the study of how children acquire typologically distinct language. In addition, it is a contribution to the examination of the grammar of colloquial Malay, a topic which has not been given much attention in studies of the Malay language. The following issues are examined: children's knowledge of the different options for asking simple questions (wh-in situ, questions employing wh-movement and focus questions), their knowledge of these question types in long-distance questions, and the role of island constraints in the syntax of these question types in the Malay of young children. The study uses two experimental methodologies; a comprehension task (the picture-story method) and a production task (elicited imitation). It is also based on a longitudinal spontaneous production study of two Malay-speaking children.
In addition to its descriptive value, the thesis is of theoretical interest. According to the innateness hypothesis, children have a biologically determined knowledge of Universal Grammar, and universals like the island constraints on movement are respected by all languages. Contrary to these expectations, the empirical evidence discussed in this thesis shows that Malay-speaking children, ages 4;5-6;5, appear not to respect island constraints on wh-movement. A careful analysis of the results, however, shows that this seeming challenge to Universal Grammar is more apparent than real, and that the island violations are the result of a processing effect in which in situ wh-questions, which are not subject to islands, prime the responses for the fully moved questions.
ISBN 9783895863806. LINCOM Studies in Language Acquisition 19. 350pp. 2006.