Hakkama-verb in child language: a marker of aspectuality or future?
In Estonian one of the most frequent means of expressing the future is the phase verb hakkama ’begin’, which acts similarly to a future auxiliary; however, in addition to the future, it has several other meanings, such as the inchoative aspect or the beginning of a situation. Because in Estonian the future is expressed also by the present forms and temporal words that specify the temporal localization of an event, the acquisition of the future enables us to observe the entwinement of lexical and grammatical devices in the acquisition process.
The article focuses on spontaneous speech of two differently-aged children (the material of the younger child represents the age 1;7–3;0 and that of the older child 4;0, 4;1, 7;2, 10;1 and 11;0). The purpose of the study was to find out whether for an Estonian child the hakkama-verb expresses the future or aspectuality, that is, the beginning phase of an action rather than the future. The study analysed constructions with hakkama-verbs in the speech of both the child and the caregiver, which allowed to observe the kind of input that parental speech offers to the child with regard to both the number of hakkama-verbs and their occurrence contexts.
The occurrence frequency of this verb does not exceed in any recordings 7 per cent of all verb tokens, but usually it is about one per cent. Constructions with the hakkama-verb that clearly denote the beginning of an action emerged in the speech of the younger child at the age of 2;1; the first and the only construction with the hakkama-verb that clearly expressed the future occurred in the child’s speech at the age of 3;1. It is apparent that the child’s speech did not reveal any hakkama-verbs denoting the future before the age of 3;1; in fact, child-directed speech revealed some, but they occurred much less frequently than the hakkama-verbs denoting the beginning of an action. To sum up, one can claim in respect of the hakkama-verb that a child clearly uses it at first only to express the beginning of an action; the future sense emerged almost a year after the sense of beginning. It is true that the speech of the older child revealed more instances of this verb with a future sense, but the meaning of aspectuality or the meaning of beginning seems to be more frequent there, too.
At first the constructions with the hakkama-verb include only atelic action verbs, followed by states, and only then the range of verbs becomes wider, and occasional telic verbs emerge as the child grows. At the same time, during the early phase of language acquisition the hakkama-verb does not occur only in a single tense or person or in some specific lexical environment. Thus, one cannot claim that in the acquisition of the hakkama-verb the child follows some lexical or positional pattern; rather, he or she creates productively constructions with the hakkama-verb.
It appeared that a child is able to use the hakkama-verb for the expression of the future as late as after the beginning of the age of four. An increase in the number of the hakkama-verbs in the speech of the older child shows that not all linguistic devices have been acquired by the age of three, and that the linguistic development of a child will continue also at the age of four and seven.
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