From Pre-Grammaticality to Proficiency in L1: Acquiring and Developing Infinitival Usage in Hebrew

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Abstract

The study traces the developmental route in acquisition and use of infinitives (e.g., lišon ‘to sleep’, le-exol ‘to-eat’, la-asot ’to-do’) in Hebrew as a first language, proceeding from the initial, “pre-grammatical“ emergence of linguistic forms among toddlers to structure-based knowledge and proficient use of the same devices in adolescence. Analysis involves a varied data-base of L1 oral Hebrew usage in: parent-child interactions of children aged 1;6 to 3;0 years; elicited storybook-based narratives of preschoolers; and personal-experience narratives and expository talks of schoolchildren, adolescents, and adults. Findings show that infinitives constitute an interesting test-case for examining the route from initial emergence via acquisition to maturely proficient command of a given subsystem in L1. Infinitival structures in Modern Hebrew, a language with an impoverished system of nonfinite verbs and lacking in auxiliaries of the kind common in Standard Average European, reveal a long developmental path, showing increasing complexity at all levels of language use: morphological form, types of syntactic constructions, semantic content, and discursive function, the latter primarily for the purpose of achieving textual connectivity.

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