Finiteness and children with specific language impairment: an exploratory study.
In: Linguistics, Vol. 40, No. 4: pp. 797-847
Children with specific language impairment (SLI) are well known for their difficulties in mastering the inflectional paradigms; in the case of learning German they also have problems with the appropriate verb position, in particular with the verb in second position. This paper explores the possibilities of applying a broader concept of finiteness to data from children with SLI in order to put their deficits, or rather their skills, into a wider perspective. The concept, as developed by Klein (1998, 2000), suggests that finiteness is tied to the assertion that a certain state of affairs is valid with regard to some topic time; that is, finiteness relates the propositional content to the topic component. Its realization involves the interaction of various grammatical devices and, possibly, lexical means like temporal adverbs. Furthermore, in the acquisition of finiteness it has been found that scope particles play a major role in both first- and second-language learning. The purpose of this paper is to analyze to what extent three German-learning children with SLI have mastered these grammatical and lexical means and to pinpoint the phase in the development of finiteness they have reached. The data to be examined are mostly narrative and taken from conversations and experiments. It will be shown that each child chooses a different developmental path to come to grips with the interaction of these devices.