Grammar acquisition in children with typical development

This research area concerns early language acquisition in children with typical development. The main topic is the production and comprehension of grammatical morphemes (especially the clinical markers in Italian: definite articles, clitic pronouns and third person inflection in the indicative present tense). Particularly, the investigation is focused on the comprehension of singular and plural in Italianmorphology.
There is strong evidence that, from very early on, infants are able to discriminate sets containing different amounts of objects by what is called subitising; however, studies on cognitive development suggest that the conceptual distinction of 'singular' and 'plural' may be absent in pre-linguistic infants. This is because the perceptual discrimination of different amount of objects is not equivalent to the 'singular vs. plural' (one vs more than one) distinction. The fact that children understand this distinction when they begin to use morphology in their language production (Brown, 1973), and not earlier, suggests that the conceptual 'one vs. more than one' distinction is developmentally related to grammar acquisition. For these reasons it is necessary to study the interaction between the concept of 'one vs. more than one' and the grammatical morphemes acquisition.

Main results to date
Our experiments have shown that children comprehend singular forms earlier than plural forms. This developmental trend confirms data on production showing that – regardless of the grammar category - singular forms of morphemes are produced earlier than plural forms
However, these studies have shown that there is a progression in mastering the different dimensions of the linguistic expressions of quantity. The child has to acquire not only the formal aspects of the linguistic system but also its communicative-pragmatic values. The progression starts with an early understanding that language, specifically morphology, has the function of coding the differences in the number of items forming physical arrays. The second step requires children to connect the quantitative information to the specific organization of the context, which determines the speaker’s linguistic options to express the intended referent.

Recent Publications
- Dispaldro M. e Benelli, B., (under review) Putting singular and plural morphology in the context. Journal of Child Language
- Dispaldro M., (under review) Acquisizione della morfologia grammaticale italiana in bambini con sviluppo tipico: una rassegna sugli articoli determinativi, pronomi clitici oggetto e flessione verbale. Giornale Italiano di Psicologia
- Dispaldro M. e Benelli B., (2010) La comprensione del numero (singolare e plurale) negli articoli determinativi: uno studio sui bambini di 3 anni d’età. Giornale Italiano di Psicologia, 2, 401-419
- Dispaldro, M., Caselli, M.C. e Stella, G., (2009) Morfologia grammaticale in bambini di 2 anni e mezzo e 3 anni. Psicologia Clinica dello Sviluppo, 1, 161-182.