The effect of polysynthetic structure on language acquisition: The case of Inuktitut

Lecture by Shanley Allen (University of Kaiserslautern-Landau).


Children all over the world acquire the languages in their environment in similar ways. But what is universal vs. language-specific, and how does language typology affect the acquisition trajectory? In this talk, I explore the acquisition of Inuktitut - a polysynthetic agglutinative language spoken in northern Canada. Based on spontaneous speech data from eight children aged 1-4 years, I lay out the typical trajectory of acquisition in Inuktitut and how it differs from that of “Standard Average European” languages that are more isolating or fusional. I focus on the mean length of utterances and words, valency alternating structures, polysynthetic structures, argument realization, word order, and verbal inflexion.


Shanley Allen is a Professor of Psycholinguistics and Language Development at the University of Kaiserslautern-Landau. She has published extensively on the acquisition and processing of morphosyntax and information structure in monolingual and bilingual children and adults, across typologically different languages including Inuktitut. She is Co-Editor of the book series Trends in Language Acquisition Research, is on the Editorial Board of the Journal of Child Language, and is President-Elect of the International Association for the Study of Child Language.