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date: 16 October 2019

Summary and Keywords

Several factors influence children’s initial choices of word-formation options––simplicity of form, transparency of meaning, and productivity in current adult speech. The coining of new words is also constrained by general pragmatic considerations for usage: Reliance on conventionality, contrast, and cooperation between speaker and addressee. For children acquiring French, Italian, Portuguese, and Spanish, the data on what they know about word-formation for the coining of new words consist primarily of diary observations; in some cases, these are supplemented with experimental elicitation studies of the comprehension and production of new word-forms. The general patterns in Romance acquisition of word-formation favor derivation over compounding. Children produce some spontaneous coinages with zero derivation (verbs converted to nouns in French, for example) from as young as 2 years, 6 months (2;6). The earliest suffixes children put to use in these languages tend to be agentive (from 2;6 to 3 years onward), followed by instrumental, objective, locative, and, slightly later, diminutive. The only prefixes that emerge early in child innovations are negative ones used to express reversals of actions. Overall, the general patterns of acquisition for word-formation in Romance are similar to those in Semitic, where derivation is also more productive than compounding, rather than to those in Germanic, where compounding is highly productive, and emerges very early, before any derivational forms.

Keywords: acquisition, derivation, compounding, agent and instrument, diminutives, French, Italian, Portuguese, Spanish

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