Syntactic diagnostics for referentiality marking in early null objects: Evidence from Italian

This paper discusses the properties of object omission at the early stages providing evidence that children acquiring Italian are sensitive to the universal syntactic conditions for marking referentiality on null objects. Data are gathered from an elicitation task administered to three, four and five year-olds prompting a highly contextually salient object, felicitously expressed as a clitic. From the asymmetries detected in comparison between matrix and adjunct clauses, some speculations are drawn.

Firstly, children may not be failing in interpreting referential objects at the syntax-discourse interface, but would rather appear to favour an operator-variable construction universally, which competes with cliticization in terms of computational economy. Furthermore, syntactic tests prove valid diagnostics to discriminate between different derivations of null objects, casting more light on the complex typology of null arguments and the role of the features associated with them.

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